The 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs get under way Wednesday, with 16 teams beginning their quest to win a championship.
Keeping with the theme of 16, here are 16 things you may or may not know about this year's playoffs and the postseason in general:
1. Rookies, rookies everywhere -- During last season's Stanley Cup Final, a pair of first-year players had a huge say in the outcome. Flyers forward Ville Leino had 3 goals and 6 assists during the six-game Final and 21 points in 19 playoff games, but it was goaltender Antti Niemi who stole the show for the Blackhawks. The 26-year-old Niemi, technically not a rookie even though it was his first full NHL season, won 16 playoff games with a 2.63 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.
There's a plethora of standout rookies who could have a big say in who wins the Cup this year. San Jose's Logan Couture was second among rookies with 32 goals, while the Rangers' Derek Stepan, Buffalo's Tyler Ennis and Boston's Brad Marchand all reached the 20-goal plateau. Defensemen Cam Fowler of the Ducks and P.K. Subban of the Canadiens were among the leading rookie scorers on the blue line, but the Capitals' John Carlson had 37 points in 82 games while logging 22:38 of ice time per game, most among all rookies.
Don't forget about goaltender Corey Crawford, who could be this season's Niemi for the Blackhawks. Crawford, a genuine rookie, went 33-18-6 with a 2.30 GAA and .917 save percentage. He'll need to be at his best against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Canucks in the first round.
2. Unproven goaltenders -- Of the 16 goaltenders likely to start Game 1, five have played fewer than 10 Stanley Cup Playoff games: Michal Neuvirth of the Capitals (zero), Sergei Bobrovsky of the Flyers (zero), Corey Crawford of the Blackhawks (one), Pekka Rinne of the Predators (six), and Jonathan Quick of the Kings (six).
Recent history has shown experience isn't a necessity for playoff success. As a rookie with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006, Cam Ward won the Conn Smythe and Stanley Cup. Last season, Niemi won a Cup in his first trip to the playoffs. Michael Leighton got to within two victories of a championship last season with the Flyers in his first playoff action.
3. California stars -- There was a time in the not-too-distant past when hockey was Canada's game. Children skating on frozen ponds until the sun went down, pretending to be their favorite Canadiens, Leafs or Flames player.
With the Sharks, Kings and Ducks all making the playoffs -- and just the Canadiens and Canucks making it from Canada -- clearly hockey belongs to California, a warm-weather state that has more sand that ice in it and until just recently was run by a retired action star. It's the first time all three California teams qualified for the playoffs.
The Kings and Ducks never have met in the playoffs, but perhaps a Western Conference Finals matchup will cause Southern Californians to cease roller skating in bathing suits on the boardwalk for two weeks and instead don a jersey and hit the Honda Center or Staples Center.
4. Healing power -- A lot of teams that dealt with major injuries to key players likely will get those players back for the start of the postseason.
In the East, defensemen Mike Green (concussion) of the Capitals and Chris Pronger (hand) of the Flyers probably will play their first games in six weeks and one month, respectively. While the Caps closed 16-3-1 without Green, the Flyers limped to the finish without one of their most important leaders.
In the West, goaltender Jonas Hiller (vertigo) has played just once since Feb. 13, but he could be ready for the Ducks in Game 1. Dave Bolland (concussion) might not be a big name, but he did an excellent job slowing the Sedins in the playoffs last season and his return would be huge for the eighth-seeded Blackhawks.
5. Missing pieces -- For all those important pieces returning, there are just as many big names who won't take part in the first round -- and possibly beyond -- due to injury.
The biggest name missing obviously is Sidney Crosby, who hasn't played since early Jan. 5 due to a concussion. He has been practicing with the Penguins, but the team is being ultra-conservative with his recovery and didn't sound optimistic about his chances of playing in Round 1.
Throw in the fact that teammate Evgeni Malkin (knee) is out for the season, and it's amazing the Pens have come this far.
Anze Kopitar suffered a severe ankle injury in the season's final weeks, costing him the entire postseason. As the leading scorer on a Kings team that doesn't score many goals, there might not be a bigger loss for any team in the playoffs.
Other major injuries: Buffalo's Derek Roy (leg) could return if the Sabres make a deep run; Montreal's Andrei Markov (knee) is out for the season; the Rangers' Ryan Callahan (leg) is out indefinitely; Detroit's Henrik Zetterberg (lower body) won't be ready to start the first-round series against the Coyotes; and Vancouver's Manny Malhotra (eye) is out for the season.
6. Staying positive -- All 16 teams scored more goals than they allowed this season, marking the first time since 1999-2000 that every playoff team had a positive goal-differential.
7. Presidents' Trophy letdown -- Just one team since 2003 has reached the Stanley Cup Final after winning the Presidents' Trophy. The Red Wings won the Cup in 2008, but the other six teams have gone a combined 33-32. It's beyond cliché at this point to mention how the regular season means nothing when it comes to the playoffs, but the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks and their 117 regular-season points should know it better than anyone.
8. Finish early, or else -- The importance of winning your first-round series quickly is paramount if you want to win the Cup. If your first-round series goes seven games, the chances of winning the Cup are slim.
The last 32 teams to win their first-round series in seven games have failed to win the Stanley Cup.
The last team to pull it off was the 1992 Pittsburgh Penguins. They were taken to a Game 7 by the Washington Capitals, but emerged victorious and went on to beat the Chicago Blackhawks in four games to win the Cup.
9. Kill or be killed -- The last four Stanley Cup winners ranked in the top eight in penalty killing during the regular seasons when they won the Cup. The last two Cup winners, the Blackhawks and Penguins, ranked 18th and 20th on the power play, respectively, in their regular seasons.
Seven of the top-eight penalty-killing teams reached the postseason this year. Of those eight teams, only Montreal and Vancouver ranked in the top eight in power-play efficiency. Special teams are a huge factor in a short series, so perhaps the only two Canadian franchises in the playoffs will have an edge.
10. Win early, win often -- There have been 40 first-round series since 2006. Teams that have won Game 1 are 27-13 (.675) in those series. Teams that won Game 1 went 3-5 last season, but overall, getting the early edge has proven to be very beneficial.
As good as taking the first game is, however, winning Game 2 is even better. Teams that come away victorious in Game 2 are 28-12 (.700) in those series no matter what happened in the opener.
11. Goals and objectives -- They say defense wins championships. That will have to be the case if the Coyotes want to win the Stanley Cup.
Shane Doan's 20 goals led the team. Three other players had 19, one had 18 and another had 17. That's tremendous balance, to be sure, but Anaheim's Corey Perry scored 20 goals in his final 22 games.
Doan is tied for 97th in the League with his 20 goals.
12. Rematches -- There are two first-round matchups between teams that met in the playoffs last year. The Blackhawks are facing the Canucks after vanquishing them in the second round last season, while the Coyotes will be looking for revenge against the Red Wings after a seven-game loss in the first round last season.
The Capitals and Rangers got together in 2009, with Washington erasing a 2-0 series deficit to win in seven games. The top-seeded Canadiens held off the eighth-seeded Bruins in seven games in 2008 but got swept in a rematch in 2009.
13. Young and ageless -- The Los Angeles Kings are the youngest team in the postseason, with an average age of 26.1. The Red Wings are the oldest at 30.8. The next-oldest team is Anaheim at 29.0.
14. Goals and objectives, Part 2 -- The Rocket Richard Trophy has been awarded to the player who leads the League in goals since 1998-99. A bad omen for Perry, this season's winner, is that no player has won the Cup the same year he's won the Richard Trophy. Calgary's Jarome Iginla came the closest, getting to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final in 2004 before losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
15. Distance between two points -- In terms of travel, the most grueling series is Vancouver-Chicago (2,200 miles); the series that will be the least strenuous is Washington-New York (230 miles).
16. Good news, bad news -- There are three teams in the postseason that missed out last year -- Tampa Bay, Anaheim and the New York Rangers. While it's all very fine and dandy that they've reached the playoffs, the only team to win the Cup after missing the postseason the previous year was, conveniently, the New York Rangers in 1994.
They finished last in the Patrick Division with 79 points in 1993, but won the brand-new Atlantic Division and the Presidents' Trophy with 112 points the following season.
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