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Rangers the big winners, Caps among losers of archaic NHL Playoff format

Rangers the big winners, Caps among losers of archaic NHL Playoff format

The second round of the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup playoffs are about to get started, and if you take a look at the bracket, you'll notice something strange.

The President's Trophy-winning Capitals have to face the Penguins, the team that finished just behind the Capitals for the NHL lead in points.

What that means is that the two best teams from the regular season have to play each other in the second round of the NHL Playoffs.

RELATED: CAPITALS vs. PENGUINS SCHEDULE ANNOUNCED

The reason the No. 1 and No. 2 teams are playing each other so early is because the NHL restructured the playoff format in order to have divisional teams face off against each other first, hoping to strengthen rivalries. It's an incredibly stupid idea, as Capitals forward Daniel Winnik has stated on several occasions.

The problem with the format is that when a division performs to the extent of what the Metropolitan did in 2017, the three top teams in the Eastern Conference end up in the same pod because the NHL wants divisional teams to play each other early in the playoffs.

When you add in the sheer chaos of playoff hockey, in which a No. 1 seed almost always gets eliminated early, the NHL ends up with wildly uneven paths to the Stanley Cup Final.

Consider this: When the No. 1 seed Capitals take on the No. 2 Penguins, it will mark the first time in six years that the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds faced off against each other in the playoffs. Having the top two teams face off in the playoffs should be the goal of the NHL on a yearly basis instead of a once-in-a-decade factoid.

But because the Capitals and Penguins are facing each other in the second round and not —say— the Eastern Conference Finals, it means there is at least one team with an unnecessary and highly favorable draw.

That team in 2017 is the New York Rangers.

The Rangers finished in fourth place in the Metro Division (48-28-6), but with 103 points, would have been good enough for second place in the Atlantic. The Rangers faced off against the Atlantic-Division champions Montreal Canadiens, a team that earned a No. 1 seed despite having the fourth best record in the East.

The Rangers knocked off the Canadiens and now face the Senators, the second-place team in the Atlantic.

If the Rangers advance to the Eastern Conference Finals, they will have avoided the top three seeds by points in the first two rounds. 

RELATED: NHL PLAYOFF POWER RANKINGS

This is what the East Bracket looks like under the current format:
1M: Capitals, 118pts
WC: Maple Leafs, 95pts

2M Penguins, 111pts
​3M: Blue Jackets, 108pts

2A: Senators, 98pts
3A: Bruins, 95pts

1A: Canadiens, 103pts
1WC: Rangers, 102pts

This is what the East bracket would look like under a standard playoff format
1. Capitals, 118pts
8. Maple Leafs, 95pts

4. Canadiens, 103pts
5. Rangers, 102pts 

3. Blue Jackets, 108pts 
6. Senators, 98pts

2. Penguins, 111pts 
7. Bruins, 95pts

A points-based playoff bracket would not change much in the first round: The No. 1 seed Capitals would still face the No. 8 seed Maple Leafs, and the No. 5 Rangers would still face the No. 4 Canadiens. But what it impacts is the second round. The Capitals would face the winner of the Rangers-Canadiens series, instead of the Penguins-Blue Jackets winner. 

A points-based bracket would reward the teams at the top of the Eastern Conference, not just the respective divisions. It would also prevent lower seeded teams from having an easier path to the Eastern Conference Finals in the event of a first-round upset. 

The NHL wants to build rivalries in early playoff series instead of what playoffs are intended to do: Weed out the lesser teams setting up a conference championship series between the two best teams.

We know that won't happen this season in the East, and the Rangers are the team benefiting from it the most. 

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How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

How the Caps won their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets

Things did not look good for the Capitals after two games.

Facing a 0-2 series hole after losing both games in Washington, it looked like it could be an early summer. The Caps were going to be the first team to ever lose a series in the playoffs to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

HOW DID THE CAPS WIN THEIR SERIES AGAINST COLUMBUS? FIND OUT HERE

But the Caps rallied.

Washington won the next four games and turned what looked like it would be another postseason disaster into a postseason triumph.

Only once in franchise history had the Caps rallied from a 0-2 deficit and only once had the Caps won four straight games to win a series. They managed both against the Blue Jackets.

Here's how the Caps were able to rally to a first-round victory over Columbus.

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Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Was Columbus' travel a factor in the Caps' series comeback?

Whenever a playoff series ends, the analysis begins soon after. Why did this team win? Why did this team lose? Why did this player perform while this one did not?  This is an exercise performed by media, players and coaches alike, especially for teams that walk away from a series believing they let an opportunity slip away.

The Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Washington Capitals in six games despite taking a 2-0 series lead by winning both opening games in Washington. Head coach John Tortorella will have all summer to think about what he could have done differently and what went wrong for his team, but it sounds like he already has at least one theory as to why they lost.

In a series that featured four overtime games, Game 4 stands out as being far more one-sided than the others. Washington turned in the most dominant performance of the series in a 4-1 win that knotted the teams at two wins apiece.

That game stood out to Tortorella too and he thinks he knows why the Blue jackets laid an egg that night: Travel.

"I think we should’ve stayed in Washington after that second overtime game, the second game there," Tortorella said. "I think that comes back and gets you later on in the series. We should’ve stayed in Washington and let them get a good night sleep. They got in here so late. I don’t think it affected us in Game 3. It comes the next days, so that falls on me."

When analyzing why the Caps won the series, chances are travel is not going to be a reason many people consider. Perhaps there is some merit to this. After all, as the father of an infant, I can certainly vouch for how much of a difference one good night of sleep can make.

But perhaps there is another message being sent here by Tortorella.

Tortorella is a master at using the media to his advantage. He uses the media to send messages to his team or draw attention on himself and away from the players.

Tortorella just saw his young team give up a 2-0 series lead and lose four straight games. Those are the kind of losses that can stick with a player and create doubt in the mind of a team the next time they reach a tough spot in the postseason.

So what did Tortorella do? He came out and put the worst loss of the series on his own shoulders. Why was it his fault? Uh...travel? Yeah, let's go with travel.

The Blue Jackets are not the first team to play overtime on the road or the first team to deal with travel concerns. To hear a coach say it was a reason they lost a game and not even the next game after the travel? Well, that's a first.

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