Hockey fans have an uneasy relationship with the second round of the NHL playoffs. Don’t get us wrong. We like it. It’s fun. No complaints. It’s just that … well, if we have to be honest, it’s probably the postseason’s least interesting round.
We can all agree that the first round is pretty much the greatest thing ever. With eight series going on at the same time, there’s always a game on. The action is unbelievably intense, every other game goes into overtime, and the matchups feature a nice mix of powerhouse favorites and plucky underdogs.
By the time the third round rolls around, every game is crucial and every remaining team is a legitimate Cup contender. And most years, the finals are packed with enough tension and drama to make up for the fact that the league schedules each game nine days apart to make sure there’s never any momentum.
But Round 2 is just kind of … there. There are still a lot of games, but after Round 1 it feels like it’s not enough. There are always a few underdog teams who have almost worn out their welcome. And injuries are starting to tilt a few of the series in unfortunate ways (as opposed to the later rounds, when everyone is hurt so it doesn’t matter).
It wasn’t always like this. Prior to 1994, the second round was actually the divisional final, which meant guaranteed intensity and gave us clutch goal scorers like Doug Gilmour, Peter Stastny, and Steve Smith. But since the league ditched its divisional playoff format, Round 2 has become the NHL playoffs' unloved middle child.
It doesn’t have to be that way. We can learn to love the second round. To help, here’s a look back through 10 great second-round moments since the NHL moved to a conference-based system: