Thursday, May 9, 2013

NHL Playoff Comebacks Trailing 3-1

Three teams (Chicago, Boston, Ottawa) have taken a commanding 3-1 series lead against their respective opponents (Minnesota, Toronto, Montreal) in the opening round best-of-seven series of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  While a 3-1 lead is always a good thing, it's never a sure thing.

Through 2012, teams have trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven NHL playoff series 258 times.  Only 24 times has the trailing team comeback to win the series. Put another way, the team with a 3-1 series lead wins 93% of the time with the down-and-nearly-out team recovering only 7% of the time.
The chart below describes all 24 such comebacks by year, team and round.

Year: Team (Round)
1942: TOR over DET (F)
1975: NYI over PIT (P)
1987: NYI over WAS (P), DET over TOR (Q)
1988: WAS over PHI (Q)
1989: LAK over EDM (P)
1990: EDM over WPG (P)
1991: STL over DET (P)
1992: DET over MIN (P), VAN over WPG (P), PIT over WAS (P)
1994: VAN over CGY (P)
1995: PIT over WAS (P)
1998: EDM over COL (P)
1999: STL over PHX (P)
2000: NJD over PHI (S)
2003: MIN over COL (P), VAN over STL (P), MIN over VAN (Q)
2004: MTL over BOS (P)
2009: WAS over NYR (P)
2010: MTL over WAS (P), PHI over BOS (Q)
2011: TBL over PIT (P)

(P = Preliminary, Q = Quarterfinal, S = Semifinal, F = Final)

In the 25 seasons since all playoff rounds were expanded to best-of-seven series in 1987, 22 teams have recovered from a 3-1 deficit to comeback and win their series. In the seven seasons since the 2004 NHL Lockout, however, only four teams (Washington 2009, Montreal 2010, Philadelphia 2010, Tampa Bay 2011) have turned the trick. Breaking it down by round, comebacks trailing a series 3-1 have happened only once in the Stanley Cup Final (Toronto 1942) and Semifinal (New Jersey 2000), four times in the Quarterfinal (Detroit 1987, Washington 1988, Minnesota 2003, Philadelphia 2010), with the remaining 18 comebacks occurring during the Preliminary round.

Of the 24 teams that completed the comeback down 3-1, four (4/24 = 17%) went on to win the Stanley Cup (Toronto 1942, Edmonton 1990, Pittsburgh 1992New Jersey 2000) and two more made it to the Cup Final but failed to hoist the hardware (Vancouver 1994, Philadelphia 2010).

Only one team has ever recovered from a 3-1 deficit twice in the same postseason (Minnesota 2003). Similarly, only one team has ever comeback down 3-1 and blown a 3-1 lead in the same postseason (Vancouver 2003).  The chart below lists all teams involved in such 3-1 series comebacks, showing the total number of series involving such circumstances and their overall win/loss record.

Team: Series (Record)
WAS: 6 (2-4)
VAN: 4 (3-1)
DET: 4 (2-2)
PIT: 4 (2-2)
EDM: 3 (2-1)
STL: 3 (2-1)
PHI: 3 (1-2)
MIN: 2 (2-0) (Wild)
MTL: 2 (2-0)
NYI: 2 (2-0)
TOR: 2 (1-1)
BOS: 2 (0-2)
COL: 2 (0-2)
WPG: 2 (0-2)
LAK: 1 (1-0)
NJD: 1 (1-0)
TBL: 1 (1-0)
CGY: 1 (0-1)
MIN: 1 (0-1) (North Stars)
NYR: 1 (0-1)
PHX: 1 (0-1)

Only AnaheimBuffalo, Carolina, Chicago, Columbus, DallasFlorida, NashvilleOttawa, San Jose and Winnipeg (formerly the Atlanta Thrashers) have never comeback from a 3-1 series deficit or blown a 3-1 series lead.  Vancouver leads all teams in comebacks trailing a series 3-1 with three such series wins.  Conversely, Washington has blown more 3-1 series leads than any other team, squandering four such series.

In sum, with basically a 1 in 11 chance (7%) chance of recovery for NHL teams trailing their playoff series 3-1, it appears likely that Minnesota, Toronto and Montreal will soon be trading their hockey sticks for golf clubs, as statistically speaking the offseason is imminent.