Hottest NHL Teams Entering the 2014 NHL Playoffs
Conventional wisdom suggests that a team on a hot streak leading up to the playoffs is likely to continue winning once the playoffs start. There is no definitive proof of that, but I have decided to rank the NHL teams in the playoffs according to their winning percentage since the Olympics.
I have pulled every playoff team's record from the team schedules at cbssports.com. The website also includes team records for the last 10 games of the regular season, which I used as a tie-breaker.
Here, for what it is worth, are the NHL playoff teams ranked from coldest to hottest as they are entering the NHL playoffs. All team records are presented as wins-losses in regulation-overtime losses.
16. Chicago Blackhawks: .523
The Chicago Blackhawks are the coldest NHL team coming into the playoffs. They played the fewest games since the Olympics, a mere 22. They managed to win only one more game then they lost in regulation during that time.
Chicago still managed to finish seventh overall in the NHL. Their 21 losses in regulation time were the third-fewest behind Boston, who had 19 and Anaheim with 20. Ten of their 21 losses came in the last 22 games this season.
The defending Stanley Cup champion have suffered through injuries since the Olympics. Captain Jonathan Toews and their most talented forward Patrick Kane missed a large number of games in the last month. As a result, Patrick Sharp ended up leading the Blackhawks in scoring this year. Both players are projected to play in Game 1 versus the St. Louis Blues.
A healthy Chicago Blackhawks team should be a different animal from the one that stumbled around after the Sochi Olympics. How healthy Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are will determine how well the team does in the first round.
They, luckily, have their first-round matchup against the other NHL team that has played the worst since the Olympics.
15. St. Louis Blues: .540
The St. Louis Blues have played 25 games since the Olympic break. They had a 13-11-1 record. They finished with six straight losses and were 3-7 in their last 10 games. They went from competing for first overall in the regular season to finishing second in the Central Division and six points behind the league leading Boston Bruins.
Injuries crippled St. Louis in the last quarter of the season. They have six players currently out with injuries. Vladimir Tarasenko is expected to miss the playoffs. David Backes, Vladimir Sobotka, Patrik Berglund, Brenden Morrow and T.J. Oshie are all listed as questionable for Game 1 versus Chicago.
Scott Burnside of ESPN.com reports that Morrow, Berglund and Tarasenko are expected to miss Game 1. It is hard to imagine that T.J. Oshie will be at full speed in time for the playoffs.
St. Louis, like Chicago, will be a much better team with a healthy lineup. Neither team will be burdened with having to beat someone on a winning streak in the first round.
14. Pittsburgh Penguins : .542
The Pittsburgh Penguins finished their NHL season with a 11-9-4 record. They were 5-3-2 in their last 10 games.
Once a consensus Stanley Cup favourite, the Penguins have disappointed the last few years. They go into these playoffs cold, missing key members Evgeni Malkin and Marcel Goc to injury. They are, once more, worried about how goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will deal with the pressure.
The Penguins cannot depend on their injured players getting back in time for the first round. They also do not have a veteran goaltender to fall back on if Fleury falters in the playoffs.
Sidney Crosby and the Penguins should be able to beat the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round. If they manage to do that, they should have Evgeni Malkin back for the second round of the playoffs. The trouble they had with the Islanders last year, and the way they have been playing recently, has to have them worried. They managed to win that series in the end, but they had a healthy Tomas Vokoun in nets for that one.
13. Dallas Stars : .563
The Dallas Stars have a record of 13-10-1 since the Olympic break. They were 6-4 in their last 10 games and managed to edge out the Phoenix Coyotes and the Nashville Predators for the last wild-card spot in the West.
The Stars have been relatively healthy but have had to deal with the traumatic collapse of forward Rich Peverley during a game versus the Columbus Blue Jackets on March 10.
Dallas was a .555 team this year, 40-31-11, so their record after the Olympic break has actually been better than what they've managed to do all year.
12. Detroit Red Wings: .604
The Detroit Red Wings went 13-8-3 since the Olympics. This despite getting both Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg injured at the Sochi Games. Detroit needed a 6-3-1 record down the stretch in order to maintain their streak of 23 consecutive years in the playoffs.
Unfortunately, they are matched up against what has been the best team in hockey this year, and what is currently the hottest team in hockey, the Boston Bruins.
11. Philadelphia Flyers: .609
The Philadelphia Flyers were 12-7-4 after the Olympics. That included a mediocre 4-3-3 run during their last 10 games.
This was significantly better than the .567 winning percentage they sported before the Olympics.
The Flyers started the season going 3-8 in October. Many people had Philadelphia written off at Christmas. They have come a long way back to finish third in the Metropolitan Division.
10. Tampa Bay Lightning .625
The Lightning have been 13-7-4 since the Olympics.
The Lightning have struggled all year with injury, and finally got captain Steven Stamkos back just in time for the stretch run. It is Ben Bishop they will be missing as the playoffs start.
9. Minnesota Wild: .630
The Minnesota Wild are a team that quietly takes care of business. Despite having to depend on the unpredictable Ilya Bryzgalov in nets, Minnesota has managed to go 12-6-5 over the latter part of the regular season. They were 6-3-1 in their last 10 games.
8. New York Rangers: .630
The New York Rangers had a slightly better end to their season than the Minnesota Wild. New York was 13-7-3 in their last 23 games. They finished on a 6-2-2 run.
7.Columbus Blue Jackets: .652
The Columbus Blue Jackets have a 14-7-2 record over the end of their season. This surge propelled them past other Stanley Cup playoff hopefuls like the Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals and Toronto Maple Leafs.
Twenty-year-old Ryan Johansen, the Blue Jackets' fourth overall pick in the 2010 NHL entry draft, has made a quantum leap forward in his development. Along with timely goaltending from Sergei Bobrovsky, Johansen has carried Columbus into the playoffs for only the second time in their existence.
6. Montreal Canadiens : .652
The Montreal Canadiens were also 14-7-2 since the Olympics. They nudged out Columbus as the hotter team with one more win in their last 10 games when they went 7-2-1.
The Canadiens managed this spurt as Carey Price was recovering from an injury he suffered while being the gold-medal winning goalie at the Sochi Olympics. The addition of Thomas Vanek certainly helped Montreal keep winning during this time.
5. Anaheim Ducks: .659
The Anaheim Ducks were the best team in hockey for most of this season. Their swoon after the Olympics still saw them put up the fifth-best record, at 13-6-3. They were the second hottest playoff team over the last 10 games, behind only the Colorado Avalanche. They went 7-2-1.
Despite some goaltending worries and an over-reliance on Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, the Ducks still look to be one of the most dangerous teams in the playoffs.
4. San Jose Sharks: .674
The San Jose Sharks finished an incredible season with a 14-6-3 run. Most of the bad news was in the last 10 games when they were 5-4-1.
This new look Sharks team has to translate regular-season success into a Stanley Cup Final appearance. They will have to defeat former Stanley Cup champion, the Los Angeles Kings. Then they will likely meet the Ducks and, projecting further, probably Chicago or St. Louis to do that.
It is a lot to ask from any team, but the Sharks are perhaps the current playoff team that most desperately needs success this year.
3. Colorado Avalanche: .688
The Colorado Avalanche were 15-6-3 since the Olympics. They had the best record of any of the playoff teams over the last 10 games of the season at 7-1-2.
This success came despite losing team leader Matt Duchene on March 29 to an MCL injury to his left knee. Playoff success is going to have to come on the backs of goalie Semyon Varlamov and center Nathan MacKinnon.
2. Los Angeles Kings: .696
The LA Kings quietly finished out their year at a torrid .696 winning clip. They went 15-6-2 over their last 23 games.
The Kings at the Olympics: Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty all had a great tournament. They came back to LA and continued that play. That reason alone makes this team my favourite to win their second Stanley Cup.
1. Boston Bruins: .813
The Bruins ended their season on a crazy 17-3-4 run since the Olympics.
They are hotter than any other team in hockey right now and finished first overall as a result of it. It is still to be seen how well they will do in a Stanley Cup championship versus one of the great teams from the Western Conference, but the Bruins are the consensus pick right now to come out of the East.
What Does It Mean?
It probably means nothing. However, it will be interesting to see if there is any correlation between a team's record over the last portion of the season versus how they do in the playoffs. Theoretically the last portion of a season is a better indicator of how a team is doing immediately before the playoffs than their entire regular-season record is. Conversely, the last few games may be less indicative of a team's ability if a team is already safely seeded in the playoffs.
I do not believe there will be a 100 percent correlation between how hot a team is and how they do in the playoffs. I will take a look after the end of the first round just to see if the correlation is stronger than for teams' playoff success with their regular-season record.
Now, if how well teams have done since the Olympics was a perfect predictor of first-round playoff success, I would expect Boston to clobber the relatively cold Detroit Red Wings. The Montreal Canadiens should be able to eke out a victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. The New York Rangers should, likewise, edge out the Philadelphia Flyers. The Columbus Blue Jackets should handle the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Western Conference would see the Los Angeles Kings beat the San Jose Sharks. The Anaheim Ducks would annihilate the Dallas Stars. The Colorado Avalanche would beat Minnesota. The St. Louis Blues would manage a first-round victory over the Chicago Blackhawks.
Taken to the logical, if slightly absurd, conclusion that Columbus beats the rangers, Boston finishes Montreal, Los Angeles takes out Anaheim and Colorado does in St. Louis. That leaves you with LA and Boston in the final, and Boston wins the cup.
I am going to check after the first round to see if the correlations exist.