blank'/> THE PUCK REPORT: NHL Playoff Comebacks Trailing 3-1

Saturday, April 26, 2014

NHL Playoff Comebacks Trailing 3-1

Two teams (San Jose, Boston) have taken a 3-1 series lead against their respective opponents (Los Angeles, Detroit) in the opening round best-of-seven series of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs.  While a 3-1 lead is always a good thing, it's never a sure thing.

Through 2013, teams have trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series 264 times.  Only 25 times has the trailing team comeback to win the series. Put another way, the team with a 3-1 series lead wins 91% of the time with the down-and-nearly-out team recovering only 9% of the time. The chart below describes all 25 such comebacks by year, team and round.

Year       Matchup Round
1942   Toronto over Detroit   Final 
1975 New York* over Pittsburgh   Preliminary
1987 New York* over Washington Preliminary

Detroit over Toronto Quarterfinal
1988 Washington over Philadelphia Quarterfinal
1989 Los Angeles over Edmonton Preliminary
1990 Edmonton over Winnipeg Preliminary
1991 St. Louis over Detroit Preliminary
1992 Detroit over Minnesota^ Preliminary

Vancouver over Winnipeg Preliminary

Pittsburgh over Washington Preliminary
1994 Vancouver over Calgary Preliminary
1995 Pittsburgh over Washington Preliminary
1998 Edmonton over Colorado Preliminary
1999 St. Louis over Phoenix Preliminary
2000 New Jersey over Philadelphia Semifinal
2003 Minnesota^^ over Colorado  Preliminary

Vancouver over St. Louis Preliminary

Minnesota^^ over Vancouver  Quarterfinal
2004 Montreal over Boston    Preliminary
2009 Washington over New York**      Preliminary
2010 Montreal over Washington Preliminary

Philadelphia over Boston Quarterfinal
2011 Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh Preliminary
2013 Chicago over Detroit Quarterfinal

*   New York Islanders
** New York Rangers
^   Minnesota North Stars
^^ Minnesota Wild

In the 26 seasons since all playoff rounds were expanded to best-of-seven series in 1987, 23 teams have comeback from a 3-1 deficit to win their series. In the eight postseasons since the 2004 NHL Lockout, however, only five teams (Washington 2009, Montreal 2010, Philadelphia 2010, Tampa Bay 2011, Chicago 2013) have turned the trick. Breaking it down by round, such comebacks have happened only once in the Stanley Cup Final (Toronto 1942) and Semifinal (New Jersey 2000), five times in the Quarterfinal (Detroit 1987, Washington 1988, Minnesota 2003, Philadelphia 2010, Chicago 2013), with the remaining 18 comebacks occurring during the Preliminary round.

Of the 25 teams that completed the comeback, four (5/25 = 20%) won the Stanley Cup (Toronto 1942, Edmonton 1990, Pittsburgh 1992New Jersey 2000, Chicago 2013) and two more made it to the 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
Washington     
6     
2-4
Detroit
5     
2-3
Vancouver
4     
3-1
Pittsburgh
4     
2-2
Edmonton
3     
2-1
St. Louis
3     
2-1
Philadelphia
3     
1-2
Minnesota^^     
2     
2-0
Montreal
2     
2-0
New York*
2     
2-0
Toronto
2     
1-1
Boston
2     
0-2
Colorado
2     
0-2
Winnipeg
2     
0-2
Chicago
1     
1-0
Los Angeles
1     
1-0
New Jersey
1     
1-0
Tampa Bay
1     
1-0
Calgary
1     
0-1
Minnesota^
1     
0-1
New York**
1     
0-1
Phoenix
1     
0-1

*   New York Islanders
** New York Rangers

^   Minnesota North Stars
^^ Minnesota Wild

Only AnaheimBuffalo, Carolina, Columbus, DallasFlorida, Nashville, Ottawa, 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.

It's worth noting that in the eight postseasons since the 2004 NHL Lockout, eight teams have squandered a 3-1 series lead only to stave off elimination by winning Game 7.  They are Carolina (2006), Vancouver (2007), Montreal (2008), Philadelphia (2008), Carolina (2009), Vancouver (2011), San Jose (2011) and Boston (2013).  Five of these games were decided by one goal and four in overtime.
In sum, with basically a 1 in 11 chance (9%) chance of recovery for NHL teams trailing their playoff series 3-1, it appears likely that Los Angeles and Detroit will soon be trading their hockey sticks for golf clubs, as statistically speaking the offseason is imminent. Going down ... down, down, down, down, down.

* See also NHL Playoff Comebacks Trailing 3-0.
* See also NHL Stanley Cup Playoff Game 7 History.
* See also NHL Stanley Cup Playoff First Round Upsets.

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