Does the length of a series matter?

Most of us counted out the Philadelphia Flyers before the playoffs started. They had struggled in the past few weeks because of injuries to goaltenders Ray Emery and Michael Leighton. No one trusted Brian Boucher entering the playoffs but he has a 0.940 save percentage so far and is a big reason why the Flyers defeated the New Jersey Devils in 5.

The Boston Bruins were pretty heavy underdogs before the series started, and although some thought they could upset the Buffalo Sabres, not many thought they’d have a chance to do it in five.

The Colorado Avalanche, Nashville Predators, Los Angeles Kings and Phoenix Coyotes are impressing a lot of people and have all forced at least a game six. Is that good or bad news for the Sharks, Blackhawks, Canucks and Red Wings?

You might have no idea where I’m going with all that but there is something behind it. I decided to look at some statistics over the past 22 seasons to see if the length of first round series means anything for the second round. Here are the second round records for each first round series length:

  W L
4 games 11 13
5 games 20 18
6 games 38 29
7 games 19 28

As strange as it may seem, the famous cliché that a team is better prepared because they faced adversity early in the playoffs is in fact true. However, if they went to a game seven, they’re in trouble because they’re tired. Teams that win their series in six games are the teams that have by far the best record for the second round.

A 38-29 record is pretty nice for teams that won in six games but many of those losses may have been when two teams that won in six were facing each other. I therefore decided to look at all the records individually to better show the importance of first round series length:

  4 games 5 games 6 games 7 games
4 games 0 – 0 2 – 2 8 – 8 1 – 3
5 games 2 – 2 4 – 4 6 – 8 8 – 4
6 games 8 – 8 8 – 6 10 – 10 12 – 5
7 games 3 – 1 4 – 8 5 – 12 7 – 7

None of the first round series will end in four so we can ignore the first column and first row of that chart for this year. As you can see, teams that win a game seven in round one are 9-20 against teams that won in five or six. That’s a pretty surprising disadvantage for teams that are forced to play a game seven.

To come back to my initial points, the Flyers don’t have a better chance to beat the Capitals (or Penguins) in round two because they won in five and if the Bruins win in five, they won’t have a better chance of winning in round two. The games that will be more important than you think are all the sixth games in the Western Conference. A win in game six not only means you move on to round two but also means your chances of going to the conference finals could be twice as good.

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