Sunday, May 5, 2013

NHL Playoff Comebacks Trailing 3-0

Tonight the San Jose Sharks took a commanding 3-0 series lead against their 2011 Conference Final foe Vancouver Canucks. Last year five playoff teams found themselves in Vancouver's predicament (Pittsburgh, Vancouver, St. Louis, Phoenix, New Jersey). None survived.

In fact, only 3 times in 172 tries (1.7%) has a team comeback to win a series down 3-0 in the NHL playoffs. The Toronto Maple Leafs were the first to turn the trick, doing so in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final against the Detroit Red Wings. The New York Islanders followed 33 years later in their franchise first playoff run, catching the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 Quarterfinals. Finally, the Philadelphia Flyers did it 35 years after that beating the Boston Bruins in the 2010 Eastern Conference Final.

Breaking it down by round, teams have held a 3-0 lead 43 times in the Preliminary round, 61 times in the Quarterfinals, 42 times in the Semifinal, and 26 times in the Stanley Cup Final. 108 of 172 times (63%), leading teams took the series in Game 4. Of the 64 teams that have survived a sweep, only 8 (13%) lived to skate in a Game 7.

Once in Game 7, the aforementioned three teams (37%) completed the improbable comeback while the 3-0 series leaders won the remaining 5 times (63%).  Of these eight Game 7s, 6 were decided by one goal, 5 were won by the home team, and 2 were decided in overtime. Teams to lead a series 3-0 and eventually win in Game 7 include the Bruins (1939), Leafs (1945), Flyers (1975), Sharks (2011) and Canucks (2011).
Despite being a three-time Northwest Division winner, two-time Presidents' Trophy winner, and one-time Stanley Cup Finalist over the past three seasons, history tells us the chances of the Canucks prevailing are infinitesimal (1.7%). Put another way, Vancouver will likely be exiting the playoffs in the first round for the 2nd straight year. Of course, there's always a chance they'll get lucky.