Repeat Olympic hangover?

RANDY SPORTAK, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:52 AM ET

Thanks to the 2006 Olympic Winter Games, the NHL's Stanley Cup playoffs that year became the ultimate crapshoot.

Could history repeat?

It's starting to look like it may shake down in similar fashion.

Four years ago, the playoffs boasted one upset after another.

All four Western Conference clubs with home-ice advantage were dusted in the first round and Edmonton -- the eighth seed -- made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

The Oilers lost to a Carolina team which finished second in the Eastern Conference but reached the championship without facing the No.-1 team from Ottawa.

We could see the same thing this time around.

Look at how the top clubs from San Jose and Chicago have fared since the Olympic break.

The Blackhawks appear to be getting their game back in order but don't seem quite right having blown a few leads, while San Jose continues to struggle with consistency to the point where pundits are already saying they're ripe for the picking when the playoffs begin.

(Curiously, the fatigue factor doesn't appear to be affecting Detroit.)

If the recent trends continue, nobody should be shocked to see the Red Wings or Vancouver Canucks or any other team from the Western Conference be skating for the Cup.

Who they'll face from the Eastern Conference appears more cut and dried with the way Washington is running away from the rest of the teams. However, the Capitals can't be a sure thing against the defending Cup champs from Pittsburgh -- even if the Penguins can't seem to beat them these days -- or New Jersey, or even Buffalo if Ryan Miller plays lights out.

Then again, Pittsburgh is starting to struggle, too.

The possibility of upsets is one of the great parts of covering sports. This season, the odds seem to have increased.

Flaming C-notes

So the Flames are down three forwards due to injury. How's that fourth-round draft choice from Nashville for Dustin Boyd look now? The only thing worse than making that trade at the deadline -- why not wait until the draft? -- was GM Darryl Sutter saying the Flames were doing Boyd a favour by trading him away. He was saying Boyd would get more playing time by being with the Predators. The favour is that Boyd will be skating in the playoffs ... Now that Niklas Hagman has shown how he scored 20 goals for the Toronto Maple Leafs -- he's had a few good games lately -- let's see whether Ales Kotalik can show how he scored 20 goals in three different seasons ... Anybody else wondering whether the Flames would have won a couple of games last season by using Adrian Aucoin in the shootout? The Phoenix defenceman has scored five times in as many attempts for the Coyotes, one reason they're in the hunt for the Western Conference crown ... If the Flames don't start getting some help -- another three-point game between the Los Angeles Kings and Colorado Avalanche Wednesday night has to be agonizing -- they have a chance to be the highest point-total, non-playoff team in NHL history ... Calgary fans should hope Rick Nash and Steve Mason have a great final stretch for Columbus. The Blue Jackets have three games remaining against the Red Wings.

Hockey talky

Thanks to a delayed flight Wednesday, I didn't get to New York in time to watch the game between the Rangers and Islanders shown in 3-D. From talking to those who did, it was incredible to see. The real treat is watching battles in front of the net and when the play comes towards you. If the NHL can figure out a way to make the production more affordable, it may have just what it needs to draw more fans ... Best story from a couple of people who went to a theatre at Madison Square Garden to watch the event: During a lull at the intermission, Ranger fans broke out into a chant of "Fire Sather." ... Overkill quote of the year award goes to Chicago's Joel Quenneville after James Wisniewski drilled Brent Seabrook with a dirty hit and drew an eight-game suspension. Quenneville's assessment was, "It's the most dangerous hit in the history of the game. He tried to hurt him." Dirty? Darn right, and eight games likely should have been 10. Most dangerous in the history of the game? Coach Q has watched enough hockey to know better ... Still love the retort from Anaheim GM Bob Murray: "I strongly suggest Joel worries about his goaltending and stops trying to run the National Hockey League."

You don't say

"I'm getting tired of hearing we played hard and we should have deserved better. We're not winning hockey games and that's what it comes down to. I don't feel very good leaving the rink when you lose, no matter how you played."

-- Pens defenceman Brooks Orpik

RANDY.SPORTAK@SUNMEDIA.CA


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