2011 NHL Playoff Predictions: What Do Season Series Tell Us About the Playoffs?
When we all make our cherished NHL playoff picks every April, we all take into account varying amounts of the same ol' statistics.
Which players are injured? Which team has the better coach? How experienced are they in the playoffs? Are they on a streak entering the postseason? And, most of all, which team is better?
However, we might be able to learn a lot more about each first round series if we just look at how the two teams facing each other did when playing their opponent in the previous six months; as in, the season series.
In fact, in the past two NHL playoffs, in April 2009 and April 2010 (that's 16 first round matchups in total), the winner of the season series won the playoff series, also, in almost every case.
Last season, the hockey world was shocked when the Eastern Conference seventh seed, Philadelphia, upset the second seed New Jersey in just five games.
How did the two teams fare in the regular season against each other? In fact, the Flyers won five of the six meetings.
In the second round, the Cinderella Flyers recovered from a 3-0 deficit to win four in a row and defeat the three seed Boston. The Bruins had defeated the Sabres in six games in their previous series to get there.
How did the season series between Boston and Buffalo go? The Bruins won, as they did in the playoffs, as well, four games to two.
The hockey world was also stunned when the eight seed Montreal knocked off Presidents Trophy-winning Washington, continuing the Capitals playoff woes.
Yet, when the Habs and Caps played in the regular season, they split the four games with two wins apiece.
In the Western Conference, the results were more reasonable, as the top three seeds all advanced.
That would've been even easier to predict if you had looked at the season series beforehand, in which Vancouver defeated Los Angeles three times out of four during the season series and four times out of six during the playoff series and Chicago came out victorious over Nashville four times out of six in both the season series and the playoff series.
The only minor upset, in terms of seeding, was the five-seed Detroit upending Phoenix, but still, in the regular season, the Red Wings earned six points out of their four meetings compared to the Coyotes mere four.
Looking back another year to the spring of 2009, the season series champions continued their dominance.
The series series winner almost always wins the playoff series; fluke or fantastic indicator?
The only upset in the first round of the East, sixth-place Carolina defeating third-place New Jersey in seven games, was correctly projected by the season series, which the 'Canes won 3-1.
In the three other quarterfinal series in that conference, Boston swept Montreal 4-0, Washington limped past the Rangers 4-3 and Pittsburgh beat in-state rival Philadelphia 4-2.
During their respective season series, the Bruins beat the Canadiens five times out of six, the Capitals beat New York three times out of four and the Penguins earned two points versus the Flyers four times out of six.
Did the season series correctly predict the playoff series victor? Yes, in all four cases.
Unfortunately, the Western Conference was not quite as definitive, as two season series (Detroit vs. Columbus and Vancouver vs. St. Louis) finished up tied, yet led to playoff series sweeps, and the winners of the other two season series (San Jose over Anaheim and Chicago over Calgary) went just 1-1 in their best-of-seven playoff meetings.
Still, with the stats from this recent history compiled, the winner of the season series between two teams that met in the first round of the postseason went 9-1 in the playoff series; talk about an accurate tool for picking the winners!
"So, how did the season series pan out for this year's first round matchups," you ask? Well, let's have a look.
In the Eastern Conference, the one-versus-eight matchup is Washington against the NY Rangers, a rematch of their 2009 first round meeting.
When you look at how they've fared in the four games up to this point, the Blueshirts have actually won three of the four matchups. Is this an early indicator of another postseason letdown in the nation's capital?
Next up is two seed Philadelphia facing off against red-hot seven seed Buffalo, in a series that I could see as a high upset alert.
The season series agrees that the two teams may be closer matched than they appear, as they split the season series 2-2.
Additionally, the Tim Thomas-led Bruins will host the Canadiens in the three-six series.
I pick the Bruins in six games. And the season series picks...[insert drumroll]...a lot of fights...as well as a surprising 4-2 victory for the Habs.
The fourth Eastern Conference quarterfinal series is an intriguing one between the Crosby-and-Malkin-lacking Penguins and the Tampa Bay Lightning, two clubs who have never met in the playoffs before. The 2-2 tie in the season series also makes this matchup even tougher to pick.
Over to the opposite side of the league now, where we find the Western Conference. The season series winners have been less decisive over here, but it's still certainly worth considering.
The regular season champion Canucks have been eliminated from the playoffs by the Chicago Blackhawks two years running and will meet them again in the first round this season. Once again, the season series was split, two wins each.
The two seed, San Jose, hopes to finally find some postseason success as they'll take on the Los Angeles Kings in the Battle of California. Yet again, the season series was tied in wins, although the Sharks pick up an edge in points by a margin of eight to six.
Another rematch from the 2010 postseason is the first round matchup between Detroit and Phoenix. The Red Wings won a thriller last year, and may be poised for another close affair as the trend continues with tied season series.
Lastly, we come to the Anaheim-Nashville series, which pits two relatively under-the-radar teams against one another. Oddly enough, this is the only Western Conference series with a season series champion; it was the Predators, who took three of the four regular season meetings.
So, are you looking for a tool which might help you out a little in your generally random first round predictions? You may have just found one: simply look back at who had the edge in the season series.
...Just good luck using it this time.
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