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KEN WARREN: Playoff success has been a long time coming for most still in hunt for Stanley Cup

Matt Duchene celebrates after the Columbus Blue Jackets did the seemingly impossible and swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1.
Matt Duchene celebrates after the Columbus Blue Jackets did the seemingly impossible and swept the Tampa Bay Lightning in Round 1.

Beyond the major hit to TV ratings, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ loss to the Boston Bruins also spoiled what would have become a more fascinating storyline for the second round of the NHL playoffs.

Even after the dust settled following what was the most unpredictable and perhaps most bizarre first round in history, there’s room for endless generational-type conversations involving most of the remaining teams — as in mothers and fathers telling their sons and daughters, “I remember when the (insert team here) last went on an extended playoff run.”

The Maple Leafs, who haven’t played beyond the first round since 2004, would have fit into the discussion perfectly.

With the notable exceptions of Boston and the San Jose Sharks, it’s remarkable how so many clubs that have ruled at or near the top of the NHL’s power structure are out of the picture so early.

Who would have guessed it would have shaken out anything like this? Certainly not those who watched regular-season games on a nightly basis.

Looking back at a poll of NHL.com columnists before the playoffs began, only two out of 15 successfully predicted four series correctly.

As for a pre-playoff poll of Postmedia.com columnists, two out of 23 had four series correct. (Yours truly was on the right side of only three).

So, what are we left with?

Consider the following Cinderella Eastern Conference semifinal: The New York Islanders, who haven’t skated past the second round since 1992-93 — 10 current roster players weren’t born when it last happened — are up against a Carolina Hurricanes squad that hadn’t previously even qualified for the playoffs in 11 years.

Then again, Carolina has one of the craziest post-season records of any team, in any sport, in history.

They’ve only been to the playoffs four times since 2002. When they get there, though, they go deep. After upsetting the Washington Capitals in the first round, the Hurricanes have gone 10-2 in playoff series, including winning the Cup in 2006.

For all their history and the fact they won the Stanley Cup in 2011, the Bruins also haven’t been past the second round in six years. It’s impossible to find a longer longshot than their opponents, the Columbus Blue Jackets. Before their shocking sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Blue Jackets had spent the first 19 years of their existence without ever tasting a playoff series win.

Out west, meanwhile, the Dallas Stars are conjuring up some memories of their franchise heyday, back at the turn of the millennium, when they won a Cup and went to the final again in back-to-back years. The Stars haven’t been beyond the second round since 2008. While their opponent, the St. Louis Blues, made it to the Western Conference final in 2016 against the Sharks, that marks the only time since 2002 that they have successfully gone beyond two rounds of the post-season.

Of course, we’re familiar with San Jose being in this position. It has been to the Western Conference final three times in the past decade, while still seeking its first Cup. The Sharks kicked things off late Thursday against the Colorado Avalanche, who have a history somewhat similar to the Stars’. They haven’t been to a conference final in nine years — the Sharks knocked them out in 2010 — but they would appear to have as good a chance as anyone to make it back to the Stanley Cup final for the first time since winning their second title in 2001.

Maybe the NHL should market what remains as the Back To The Future playoffs.

The league might need some help.

The goal of parity is one thing, but from a public relations and broadcast point of view, the first round probably couldn’t have played out any worse.

All hope of a Canadian team basking in the glow of the Stanley Cup has disappeared yet again.

It was a rough weekend on that front, with Calgary going out Friday, followed by Winnipeg on Saturday and the biggest hit of all — Toronto — on Tuesday. As the centre of the hockey universe, the end of Toronto marks the end of sky-high north-of-the-border ratings.

In the U.S., the challenge is in somehow turning supreme talents like Nate MacKinnon, Alexander Radulov and Jordan Binnington into household names along the lines of the dearly departed Sidney Crosby, Alexander Ovechkin and Marc-André Fleury. Typically, American television ratings are outstanding in the markets with teams that go deep into the post-season, but the NHL playoffs are a tougher sell to a national audience unless the biggest-market teams are involved.

This time around, chances are a true underdog will end up as the top dog.

kwarren@postmedia.com

Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019

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