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Why Game Four Is the Pivotal Game in a Best-of-Seven Series

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IApril 13, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JUNE 04: (L-R) Chris Chelios #24 and Dominik Hasek #39 of the Detroit Red Wings celebrate with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Pittsburgh Penguins in game six of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Finals at Mellon Arena on June 4, 2008 in Pittsburgh. Pennsylvania. The Red Wings defeated the Penguins 3-2 to win the Stanley Cup Finals 4 games to 2. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs about to begin, I felt it rather fitting to delve into which game in a best-of-seven series is most often going to hold more weight than any other.

If you were to ask the question "which game is more pivotal in a best-of-seven series?" you may get the uneducated fan response of "game seven!!!" or the somewhat educated fan will say "game five," and even an paid NHL analyst might say "game three."

However, all three answers would be wrong, as game four is the most pivotal game in a best-of-seven series.

But before I delve into why game four is the most important game of a series, I will show why the other popular options are wrong.

Lets start with game seven, shall we? In no way, shape, or form is game seven the most pivotal game in a best-of-seven series.

First off, most best-of-seven series never reach the seventh and deciding game. Even if it does reach seven games, the most pivotal game in that series would have been game six, because the team that forced the seventh game had to win game six just to have a chance to play a seventh game.

Its a similar situation to the last minutes of a close game, a goal scored to tie the game in the last moments takes more skill and effort, and often causes a bigger celebration than a go-ahead goal. In the late moments when a team is down by one, their opponents are cracking down defensively, doing anything it takes to keep the puck out of the net.

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Scoring a goal in that situation to tie the score is a lot more difficult then scoring a goal during a tie game in the late moments, because each team is exchanging rushes to score during a tie game, which can lead to bad turnovers and better scoring chances.

Game five is certainly not the most pivotal game in a best-of-seven series. If a series has a fifth game, then the series is either 3-1 or 2-2 going into it. Typically, a team that is up 3-1 going into game five is going to win the series regardless of whether or not they win game five, as they only need to win one out of three games while their nemesis needs to win three straight games.

As for a game five with the series tied 2-2, well, then some may argue that whoever goes up 3-2 has the best chance to win the series. Now those who say that are exactly right, you can't argue that. However, in a 2-2 series, somebody has to go up three games to two. No matter what happens in the fifth game, one team will have three wins, and one team will still have two wins, but game six is where the series could be over or up for grabs. Therefore, it is inherently more pivotal.

And finally, most NHL analysts argue that game three is the tell-tale game of a best-of-seven series. Whoever wins the game is either up 3-0 and has all but wrapped up the series, is up 2-1 and has the series lead or is down 2-1 but now has the momentum. However, unless one team in the series wins all three of the first three contests, the series must be two games to one after the third game. In 99 percent of the competitive series in the Stanley-Cup playoffs, the series will be 2-1 after game three.

If the majority of series end up being 2-1 after game three, then why is it so often marked up as the pivotal game of the series?

Game four, on the other hand, is the game that either makes a series either practically over at three games to one, or MAKES it a series by tying it at two games a piece.

After game four, the series could either be 2-2, 3-1, or 4-0. There are three different possibilities, while after game three, there are only two possibilities, 3-0, or 2-1. After game five, there is only one possibility (3-2), and after game seven, one possibility (4-3).

It is simply a fact, that there are more possible outcomes of a series score after game four than after any other game. More often than not, game four decides whether the series is going to close, or if it's going to be won rather easily by a particular team.

Knowing this, as a fan, I often prefer my team to start out on the road, so the pivotal game four can come at home. For instance, teams starting out on the road go into the first two games saying "Hey, we just need to win one of the first two games to steal home-ice," while the team starting out at home has to win both games one and two just to keep the home ice. If the road team is successful in winning one of the first two games, they come to their home arena with tons of momentum and a chance to take a decisive three games-to-one series lead.

As a Sharks fan, I am worried about facing the Ducks. Even if the Sharks play well, they could easily lose one of the first two games and the Ducks could sweep games three and four in Anaheim and be sitting pretty, come game five.

Now, home games in the Stanley-Cup playoffs are not automatic wins by any stretch, but either way, no matter whether your team is on the road or at home, game four in a competitive series will be the pivotal game.

In last year's Stanley Cup Final, Detroit won game four on the road to give it a 3-1 series lead, and despite losing game five, Detroit won the series in six games. If Pittsburgh had been able to win game four, it would have been a completely different series.