NHL Playoffs – First Round Predictions

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are finally here and 16 teams now have a chance to win it all. All the experts will be making their predictions as to who will win each series in the next few days and I figure I might as well make my own. I’m a little sick of the classic arguments so I like to look at some statistics to prove my points.

First off, Behind the Net Hockey published an excellent article this morning which looks at save percentage in the regular season and in the playoffs. The conclusion was that goaltenders who win the cup weren’t better in the regular season, they simply got hot in the playoffs. It takes a hot goaltender to win it all but his statistics prove that anyone can get hot. With that said, the argument “Washington doesn’t have good enough goaltending to win the cup” is a moot one.

Over the last few weeks I looked at points per game after March 1st and mentioned that over the last three years, they have been excellent at predicting the winners of each series in the playoffs. Here is the updated chart:

DET 21 1.62
WSH 20 1.55
PHX 19 1.47
NSH 21 1.38
VAN 21 1.29
MTL 19 1.26
PIT 20 1.25
NJD 21 1.24
SJS 20 1.20
CHI 21 1.19
BUF 22 1.18
BOS 22 1.18
LAK 21 1.10
PHI 22 0.95
OTT 19 0.95
COL 21 0.90

Over the last three years, teams with an advantage of at least 0.25 in pts per game after March 1st are 14-2. As you can see, no team is within 0.25 pts of Washington in the Eastern Conference while Phoenix and Nashville are the only ones within 0.25 of Detroit. One thing you can’t forget however is that the Penguins played many of those games without Evgeni Malkin and Sergei Gonchar. It’s interesting to note that this season the Penguins were 37-15-5 with all three in the lineup and only 10-13-2 when one of them was missing. That’s probably something we could do with most teams but it’s particularly notable for the Penguins.

Anyways, with that said, based on the 0.25 rule, there are four series that are pretty much sure things. The Washington Capitals, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks should all win their series. There aren’t really any surprises right now but this statistic will predict a few upsets in the second round.

Amongst the other series, the Nashville Predators, Vancouver Canucks and Detroit Red Wings are the favourites while the Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins have the exact same record since March 1st.

Last week I also wrote an article about the 5 Real Stanley Cup Contenders. In that article, I looked at the last 16 teams that participated in the conference finals to see what they had in common. Here are some interesting statistics from those 16 teams and the list of teams that do no respect those rules:

-All 16 of them had at least 95 points in the regular season.
Teams that do not respect this rule: Boston, Montreal, Ottawa and Philadelphia.

-15 of the 16 had a goal differential of at least +10
Teams that do not respect this rule: Boston, Montreal, Nashville and Ottawa.

-All 16 of them had at least 46 points at home.
Teams that do not respect this rule: Boston and Montreal.

-All 16 of them had at least 41 points on the road.
Teams that do not respect this rule: Ottawa, Philadelphia and Vancouver.

-All 16 of them ranked in the top half of the league in goals per game.
Teams that do not respect this rule: Boston, Montreal, Nashville, New Jersey and Phoenix.

-15 of the 16 had at least 1.10 pts per game after March 1st
Teams that do not respect this rule: Colorado, Ottawa and Philadelphia.

If you put all that together, it leaves only seven teams with a chance to make it to the conference finals:
Eastern Conference: Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.
Western Conference: Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.

The final statistic I want to look at is which teams have benefited from hot goaltending since March 1st. I mentioned earlier that a team needs a hot goaltender in the playoffs but it’s not because he was hot in the season that he will be hot in the playoffs. However, in order to predict who might be hot in the playoffs, I thought it would be a good idea to see who has been hot in the past six weeks:

TEAM Total Mar & Apr Diff
Los Angeles 0.907 0.916 0.009
Phoenix 0.919 0.928 0.009
Nashville 0.908 0.917 0.009
Boston 0.922 0.929 0.007
Montreal 0.917 0.922 0.005
New Jersey 0.916 0.919 0.003
Washington 0.910 0.912 0.002
Philadelphia 0.905 0.902 -0.003
Buffalo 0.922 0.919 -0.003
Detroit 0.914 0.909 -0.005
Ottawa 0.900 0.893 -0.007
Pittsburgh 0.900 0.890 -0.010
Chicago 0.901 0.891 -0.010
Vancouver 0.910 0.895 -0.015
San Jose 0.919 0.899 -0.020
Colorado 0.913 0.892 -0.021

As you can see, Ottawa, Pittsburgh, Chicago, Vancouver, San Jose and Colorado have all had very weak goaltending in the past six weeks which leads me to believe that they will struggle in the playoffs.

With all of that said, here are my predictions for the first round of the playoffs:

Washington Capitals over the Montreal Canadiens – 6 games
New Jersey Devils over the Philadelphia Flyers – 5 games
Boston Bruins over the Buffalo Sabres – 7 games
Pittsburgh Penguins over the Ottawa Senators – 4 games

San Jose Sharks over the Colorado Avalanche – 5 games
Nashville Predators over the Chicago Blackhawks – 6 games
Vancouver Canucks over the Los Angeles Kings – 6 games
Detroit Red Wings over the Phoenix Coyotes – 7 games

My two upsets are the Bruins over the Sabres and the Predators over the Blackhawks. Tuukka Rask has been solid all year long but has been especially good in the past few weeks. I think he could outplay Ryan Miller and take the Bruins to the second round. As for the Predators they have been one of the best teams in the NHL in the past few weeks and have also had great goaltending of late. The Blackhawks have won with poor goaltending all year long but it’s been especially poor in the past six weeks and I think they’ll be knocked out early.

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