"We're on fire."
"We're peaking at the right time."
"No one is hotter than us right now."
"The way we've been playing, how can we not win the Cup?"
We hear these kinds of statements from hockey fans every year right before the Stanley Cup Playoffs
begin. This year it's Penguins, Capitals and Rangers fans talking up their teams' momentum, and sometime we even hear players saying things like "We like the way we're playing right now."
In theory, it makes sense. If your favourite team is winning going into the playoffs, it stands to reason that it will continue winning once the post-season begins. Things are "going well" and there seems to be no reason why that would change when it matters most.
But if this is your thought process in predicting a Stanley Cup winner, I'm sorry to burst your bubble, but history is not on your side.
Don't believe me? Let's take a look.
To test this theory out, I examined the last 17 Stanley Cup winners (I'll explain later why I chose 17).
Those 17 champions averaged just five wins over their last 10 regular-season games the year they won the Cup. Six of those teams entered the post-season having lost two or more games in a row, and only two teams went in riding a winning streak.
What about the "hottest" teams -- those that had the most points in the NHL over the final 10 games of the season?
Over the last 17 seasons, the "hottest" team entering the playoffs won the Stanley Cup a grand total of zero times. That sound you just heard was those same Penguins, Capitals and Rangers fans we talked about earlier spitting out their coffees.
Let's dive deeper. Of those 17 "hottest" teams, we saw...
- 9 first-round exits.
- 5 second-round departures.
- 2 teams make it to the conference finals.
- Only 1 team (the '98 Capitals) make it to the Stanley Cup final.
That is ugly.
So what does that mean for this year? Well, as I mentioned Pittsburgh, Washington and the New York Rangers have all closed out the season pretty well. They had eight, eight and seven wins, respectively over their final 10 games. But if you buy into the above theory (OK, it's not a theory per se, just me recapping recent history), then you may want to avoid picking those teams in your playoff pool.
If five wins down the stretch is the magic number, then the Leafs, Ducks, Canucks, Kings, Sharks and Red Wings could be worth a look. Oh, and the reason I stopped at 17 seasons was because number 18 was the year the New York Rangers went into the playoffs tied for the most points in the NHL over the last 10 games and went on to win the Stanley Cup.
If you're a Rangers fan reading this post, I'm sure you have no idea how to feel about it. For the Penguins and Capitals fans, go clean up your coffee!
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