In 1992, ESPN resumed their National Hockey League coverage bringing the sport back in to the national spotlight for fans across the United States. At the time, the game was great and while the offensive outputs that defined the League in the 80’s had cooled, there was still plenty of fire and star power to keep even the novice fan entertained.
The Western Conference semi-finals will offer fans something exciting and different and is sure to be full of firsts. The East will take on a more familiar flavor as we head in to Round 2. Anyone who enjoyed the game on the “world wide leader” back in the 90’s will be all too familiar with the clubs involved when the Eastern Conference semi-finals kick off this weekend. The Rangers, Flyers, Devils, and to a lesser extent Caps (though they had their moments), were for the most part regulars in the in the Playoffs when ESPN’s coverage was taking off almost two decades ago. The Rangers and Devils captured Cups in ’94 and ’95 respectively and the Flyers and Caps represented the East in the Cup Finals in ’97 and ’98, each losing to the Detroit Red Wings and the Russian Five in four game sweeps. Not only did these four franchises familiarize themselves with some form of playoff success in the 90’s, they also became quite familiar with one another. While there was never a year during the decade that all four were the Conference semi-finalists, three of the four found themselves battling it out in the same season on several occasions. Most recently, the Flyers, Devils, and Rangers were among the final four standing in the 1997 post season.
While the cast of characters making up the rosters have changed, the animosity between franchises and fans won’t take long to reignite.
A look now at the 2nd Round of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals featuring some familiar foes, by the numbers….
1- Coach, Dale Hunter, hired as a mid-season replacement who went on to lead his team to the Eastern Conference semi-finals (joining Ken Hitchcock with the Blues out West). Hunter will look to join Peter Laviolette (2010) in Philadelphia and Dan Bylsma (Won the Cup in 2009) of the Penguins as recent coaches who led their team to the Cup Finals appearances after being brought in part way through the season.
2- Goals per game scored by the Rangers in Round 1, the least of any team to advance, staying true to the defensive style and strengths that got them their number one seed in the East.
3- Flyers with over a point per game in their playoff careers, Jagr, Briere, and Giroux.
4- Cup Finals appearances for Devils goaltending legend Marty Brodeur during his illustrious two decade career.
5- Goals per game scored by the Flyers, most of any team in Round 1. The 4.33 they gave up to the Pens was a far more dubious statistic that put them among the league leaders there as well.
6- First Round points for the Devils Travis Zajac, the most by any Eastern Conference player to advance to Round 2 not on the Philadelphia Flyers.
7- Games played in Round 1 by three of the four teams advancing, the Flyers being the only club to advance in 6.
8- Stanley Cup Finals appearances by the Flyers beginning with their back to back championships in 1974 and 1975. They have since lost all six Finals they have played in.
9- Games played by Devils sniper Ilya Kovalchuk in his first nine NHL seasons. He nearly doubled that total in Round 1 as the Panthers took New Jersey to Game 7 before the Devils advanced.
10-Playoff goals scored by Joel Ward in 25 career games including his most recent one, the Game 7 overtime winner in Boston to advance. The .4 GPG in the post season is a significant increase in production over his regular season output where he has just 46 goals in 314 career games.