Sunday, May 2, 2010

An Original idea

Somewhere, the ghosts of Jack Adams, Toe Blake, Eddie Shore and King Clancy are smiling. That's because for the first time under the NHL's current playoff format, instituted in 1993, four "Original Six" teams -- the Montreal Canadiens, Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings -- have reached the Stanley Cup Conference Semifinals.

And a chance exists that we could see our first "Original Six" final since 1979, when the Canadiens bested the New York Rangers in games. Albeit not a terrific chance, as the Bruins are the only Original Six squad still alive that led their playoff series on Sunday morning, following their thrilling OT triumph over Philadelphia in their series opener on Saturday.

Just as interesting, should the Canadiens, Bruins, Blackhawks and Red Wings all manage to win their respective series, it would mark the first time in the expansion era that the Conference Finals would consist solely of Original Six franchises -- not to mention that a Hawks-Wings battle would feature two of the best uniforms in sports (see above).

It was a common occurrence for four or five Original Six teams to advance this far in the early years of the post-expansion era, which began when the NHL expanded to 12 teams before the 1967-68 season. But since the playoff format was changed in 1981-82, as teams now had to advance by defeating teams within their own division, then conference, only once -- in 1991-92 -- did five Original Six clubs (Rangers, Bruins, Canadiens, Blackhawks, Red Wings) advance this far.

In 1993-94, another switch was made to the current format, which seeds according to the top eight seeds in each conference, and until this postseason, there had never been a time when more than three Original Sixers had survived this long in this format.

Here's a closer look:

Original Six teams in Conference Semifinals
2010: Canadiens, Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings
2009: Bruins, Blackhawks, Red Wings
2008: Canadiens, Rangers, Red Wings
2007: Rangers, Red Wings
2006: None
2005: Lockout, season cancelled
2004: Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Red Wings
2003: None
2002: Maple Leafs, Canadiens, Red Wings
2001: Maple Leafs
2000: Maple Leafs, Red Wings
1999: Bruins, Maple Leafs, Red Wings
1998: Canadiens, Red Wings
1997: Rangers, Red Wings
1996: Rangers, Black Hawks, Red Wings
1995: Rangers, Black Hawks, Red Wings
1994: Rangers, Bruins, Maple Leafs

Times Original Six teams have reached conference semifinals since 1994
Red Wings: 12
Rangers: 6
Canadiens: 5
Blackhawks: 4
Bruins: 4
Maple Leafs: 4

Original Six Stanley Cup Finals in expansion era (since 1967-68)
1979: Canadiens def. Rangers
1978: Canadiens def. Bruins
1977: Canadiens def. Bruins
1973: Canadiens def. Blackhawks
1972: Bruins def. Rangers
1971: Canadiens def. Blackhawks

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