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NHL Playoffs 1st round: A curse lifted, defending champions ousted and 14 overtimes

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

So far in the NHL playoffs, lots of surprises. The last two teams to win the Stanley Cup have been ousted. So has the team with the most regular season wins in league history. We've also already seen 14 overtime games and were not even done with the first round. Dan Rosen is a senior writer with nhl.com, and he's been covering this frenetic situation. Hi, Dan.

DAN ROSEN: Hi. How are you?

PFEIFFER: Good. Dan, I live in Boston, and so anyone in...

ROSEN: Right.

PFEIFFER: ...Boston who loves hockey is in a state of deep shock and mourning today about what happened last night. They probably consider that the biggest story so far in the playoffs. But what do you consider the biggest stories from this first playoff round?

ROSEN: Well, it's that. It has to be. I mean, this is - you're talking about a team that's set the NHL record for most wins with 65, and points with 135 in the season. And they were playing a team that had - I think the Panthers had 92 points. They barely got into the playoffs. And on top of that, you have the Boston Bruins up 3-1 in the series. And Brad Marchand for the Bruins has a breakaway, you know, at the end of Game 5 and can't put it in. If he puts that in with two seconds left to go in the game, series over, and Florida comes back, and they win it instead in overtime. Which - so that's the biggest story. There is no question about it. There is nothing bigger than that upset. But the other huge story - there are two - I mean, Game 7 of the Rangers-Devils, that's the huge rivalry, locally, for the Hudson River rivalry. But the Toronto Maple Leafs also getting out of the first round is a huge story, especially up in Toronto. I mean, you're talking about a team that had not gotten out of the first round of the playoffs since 2004.

PFEIFFER: What about Tampa Bay and Colorado being out? These are the teams that...

ROSEN: Yeah.

PFEIFFER: ...Had won the Stanley Cup in recent years. Was that - you consider that a big surprise as well?

ROSEN: Not a huge surprise. Tampa Bay, not so - less of a surprise. I mean, you're talking about the Tampa Bay Lightning, who had been to the Stanley Cup final three straight years playing against the Toronto Maple Leafs, who made a lot of moves at the NHL trade deadline to improve their team to play a playoff-style hockey. And it didn't shock me that Tampa Bay lost. Eventually, that run had to come to an end. It's just they played almost an extra seed. I think they played 77 playoff games over the past four postseasons. That's almost an extra full season of hockey...

PFEIFFER: (Laughter).

ROSEN: ...So that's not, you know...

PFEIFFER: They're tired.

ROSEN: They're tired. That's not surprising to me. The Avalanche is a little bit more surprising. But also, if you look at Seattle, the Kraken this season, they relied on a number of players and their depth all season, and they did in this series. Whereas the Avalanche were missing a bunch of key guys that helped them win the Stanley Cup last season. And that was - they were thinner. They had the better talent - high-end talent - but they were way thinner. So it wasn't that shocking that they lose.

PFEIFFER: Dan, we mentioned 14 overtime games in the first round. That seems like a lot. What accounts for that?

ROSEN: Well, it's parity. This NHL has got so much parity in it right now and you saw it in Game 7 last night.

PFEIFFER: Meaning, well-matched in a sense?

ROSEN: Yeah, well-matched. I mean, these teams - the salary cap in the National Hockey League creates - it takes away advantages for big-market teams versus small-market teams. There is - what you see in baseball you don't necessarily see in the NHL. So the salary cap creates that parity and it really has an anybody can win situation. And we saw it last night. We saw it in Game 7. Seattle goes on the road, wins a Game 7 against the defending champs. Florida goes on the road, wins a Game 7 against a team that set all kinds of records in the season.

PFEIFFER: That is Dan Rosen from nhl.com. Dan, thanks for filling us in on this wild playoff round so far.

ROSEN: Thanks for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF GNARLS BARKLEY SONG, "CRAZY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jason Fuller
Sacha Pfeiffer is a correspondent for NPR's Investigations team and an occasional guest host for some of NPR's national shows.