After just the first round of the NHL playoffs, the NHL has reported that there is no perfect bracket left in their annual Bracket Challenge. Who could have predicted a Predators sweep over Chicago, or St. Louis eliminating Minnesota in just 5 games? How about the 8th seeded Leafs standing their ground and pushing Washington to 6 games? A lot of interesting series played out in mid-April and what’s more interesting is the fact that there were no Game 7s in the entire 1st round. Putting the number of games to finish a series aside, how could one predict which team will beat the other? Many people use special team stats, season-series records, and fancy stats, but what I have learned these playoffs is how a team comes into the mid-April grind usually dictates their success in the post-season.
Coming In Hot
Among the 8 teams that advanced to the 2nd round, many of them came into the playoffs playing some of their best hockey of the season. The President Trophy winner, Washington Capitals, flew into their first series riding a 10-2-0 record in their last 12 games of the season. The St. Louis Blues did not have home ice advantage against the Wild, but came into the series on a 10-1-2 run. The orange crush Ducks swept the Calgary Flames which added 4 more wins to their 9-0-2 finish of the regular season; the Ducks haven’t lost a game in regulation since March 10th. The Nashville Predators had a less remarkable finish of 9-5-2 when they entered their domination of the Chicago Blackhawks. After 11 long years the Edmonton Oilers made the playoffs on a high note of going 7-1-0. The other victors, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Ottawa Senators, ended their regular seasons going 4-2-0 and 3-1-0 respectively.
Limping Their Way In
Defending Stanley Cup Finalists, San Jose Sharks, had a great season but wavered after the trade deadline and finished 4-9-0. After their incredible 12 game win streak Minnesota Wild, like the Sharks, struggled after the trade deadline and finished 8-11-2 with their last 4 wins coming against the Coyotes, Hurricanes, and twice against the last place Avs. The only team with a better win streak than the Wild was the Columbus Blue Jackets who entered the playoffs on a 1-5-1 skid. The regular season dominators, Chicago Blackhawks, wrapped up their season with a 2-6-0 record and failed to advance to the second round of the playoffs. The Maple Leafs returned to the post-season after a shaky 1-3-0 finish where they barely made it in with Tampa Bay and the Islanders breathing down their necks.
As you can see there is a trend when it comes to how a team finishes their season and how it translates into the playoffs. It’s interesting to see, in particular, the Nashville and Chicago series where Chicago was dominant when those two teams met each other in the season, but in the playoffs Nashville completed a sweep; the difference being how each team finished their season. I know for me next post-season, I will be picking my bracket teams very differently now by looking at each team’s record to finish off the season.