The upsets did eventually come to the National Hockey League playoffs; it just took three rounds instead of the usual one before they occurred.
The Buffalo Sabres and the Detroit Red Wings, the President's Trophy winners and the first runners-up, the No. 1 seeds in the Eastern and Western Conference, both fell in the semi-finals to the Ottawa Senators and Anaheim Ducks respectively. These were not upsets on a mammoth scale, but in a year when the gap between first and 11th overall was only nine points, nothing short of a Calgary or a New York Islanders first-round victory would have constituted a major upset anyway. Still, the prevailing tendency for the NHL's top regular-season team to stumble out of the playoffs before the Stanley Cup final continued again this season; home-ice advantage counted for little; and in the end, the teams that advanced parleyed solid two-way play with a little luck to get this far.
So who gets to carry home the Cup?
The Ducks may be the higher-seeded team, but that means little in the overall scheme of things. Both clubs won 48 regular-season games. Both had down times in the middle of highly successful years, Ottawa as it sorted out its goaltending situation early and tried to adapt to the losses of Zdeno Chara and Martin Havlat; Anaheim a little later, after injuries knocked both J.S. Giguere and Chris Pronger out of the line-up for a number of overlapping games. As with most teams that get this far in the playoffs, they were good but not great down the stretch (Ottawa was 6-2-2 in their final 10 games, Anaheim 5-3-2). The Senators are better offensively (only Buffalo scored more than Ottawa's 288 regular-season goals); the Ducks are better defensively (sixth overall compared to Ottawa at No. 10). The teams have no recent history with each other, thanks to the current schedule, so it's impossible to know how the Sens' big line will respond to the defensive stylings of Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer, or to Giguere's big body between the pipes. Still, if they can score the way they did in previous rounds, that should tip the delicate balance Ottawa's way.
Prediction: Ottawa in 6