Tampa Bay Sports Day

NHL: Historic Stanley Cup Playoffs Set to Begin

A new Stanley Cup champion is guaranteed for the 18th time in the past 19 seasons as three division champions – the Lightning, Golden Knights and Capitals – along with the No. 2 seed from the overall standings – the Jets – head into the Conference Finals.

This marks the eighth time in 29 seasons under the four-division format (1974-75 through 1997-98 and 2013-14 to present) that at least three division champions have reached the Conference Finals.

The last such instance came in 1996 when three division winners – the Red Wings, Avalanche and Penguins – advanced along with a first-time playoff team – the Panthers.

After finishing third in the Atlantic Division during the regular season, Florida embarked on a playoff run that saw it become the first team in the NHL’s modern era (since 1943-44) to reach the Stanley Cup Final during its first postseason (excluding St. Louis’ emergence from the all-expansion West Division in 1968).

Tampa Bay is the only remaining club with a championship (2004). This is the first time in NHL history that the final four teams have combined for one-or-fewer Stanley Cup wins. Additionally, this is just the sixth time that at least three of the final four contenders are chasing their first Cup.

The Stanley Cup Final has featured two clubs chasing their first title only five times in League history: 1934 (Detroit Red Wings vs. Chicago Blackhawks), 1991 (Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Minnesota North Stars), 1996 (Colorado Avalanche vs. Florida Panthers), 1999 (Dallas Stars vs. Buffalo Sabres) and 2007 (Anaheim Ducks vs. Ottawa Senators).

The Second Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs was the highest-scoring second round in 24 years, with an average of 6.0 goals per game (145 GF in 24 GP). Overall, goals per game increased to 6.0 this postseason (400 GF in 67 GP). Since 1994, only two playoff years have finished with a goals-per-game rate of at least 6.0. The 1995 Stanley Cup Playoffs averaged 6.4 goals per game (515 GF in 81 GP) and the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs featured 6.0 goals per game (532 GF in 89 GP).

The expansion Golden Knights were led by their top line of Jonathan Marchessault (4-7—11), Reilly Smith (1-10—11) and William Karlsson (4-6—10) who combined for 8-17—25 in the Second Round (6 GP). The individual records for goals, assists and points by a player on a team making its first-ever postseason appearances are as follows:

Entering the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a combined 29 games of postseason experience, Jets forwards Mark Scheifele (11-5—16) and Blake Wheeler (3-12—15) have factored on 44.2% of the team’s goals (19 of 43), including a combined 9-13—22 against the Predators (7 GP). Scheifele leads the League with 11 goals this postseason, including an NHL-record seven road goals during the Second Round.

Lightning forward Brayden Point scored three of his four goals in the Second Round, tallying once each in Games 2, 4 and 5. With Tampa Bay trailing 1-0 in the series, Point factored on all four of the team’s goals in Game 2 to become the youngest player in franchise history to post a four-point playoff game. His performance triggered a streak of four straight wins that propelled Tampa Bay into the Conference Finals for the fifth time in franchise history, tied for the second-most of any team since the League reached 30 teams in 2000-01.

After helping Washington take a 3-2 series lead with 1-2—3 in Game 5, Evgeny Kuznetsov scored the series-clinching goal in overtime two nights later to propel his club into the Conference Finals for the first time in 20 years. Kuznetsov ranks second on the club with 7-7—14 behind Alex Ovechkin (8-7—15), who assisted on the overtime goal. Both are within reach of establishing franchise records for goals, assists and points in a single postseason.

Three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury has recorded four shutouts through 10 games to backstop the Golden Knights on their unprecedented run. Fleury has earned shutouts in each of his past three appearances in which his team could clinch a series, becoming the third goaltender in NHL history to achieve that feat. Only five goaltenders have posted at least five shutouts overall in one playoff year.

Dustin Byfuglien has been an integral part of the longest playoff run in Jets history, collecting 4-9—13 through 12 games. Byfuglien, who leads NHL defensemen in points this postseason, needs only three points to match his career-best total of 16 set as a forward during his run to the 2010 Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks (11-5—16 in 22 GP).

After leading the Lightning and finishing third in the NHL with a career-high 39-61—100 during the regular season, Nikita Kucherov has compiled 6-6—12 through two rounds (10 GP). With his goal in Game 4 against Boston, Kucherov (28-26—54 in 55 GP) leapfrogged Vincent Lecavalier (24-28—52 in 63 GP) into sole possession of second place in scoring in Tampa Bay playoff history, trailing only Martin St. Louis (33-35—68 in 63 GP).

Braden Holtby, the Capitals’ all-time franchise leader in playoff games played (70) and wins (37) among goaltenders, looks to build on his postseason resume as he leads Washington into the Conference Finals. He ranks sixth among active netminders in career playoff wins, despite having played at least 13 fewer contests than each player ahead of him.

The Eastern Conference Final between the Lightning and Capitals begins tonight in Tampa (8 p.m. ET; CBC, SN, TVAS, NBCSN), while Game 1 of the Western Conference Final between the Jets and Golden Knights goes tomorrow in Winnipeg (7 p.m. ET; CBC, TVAS, NBC).