Close, Never Comfort: A Numerical Look at the Penguins/Capitals Series

Jeffery StonerCorrespondent IMay 15, 2009

WASHINGTON - MAY 13:  Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals skates against Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinal  Round of the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center on May 13, 2009 in Washington, DC.The Penguins defeated the Capitals 6-2 to move into the semifinals.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

With a few exceptions (cue the 1960 Yankees fans here), all series that go to a game seven are close.  A series with lead changes are close.  A series with three overtime games is really close.

In the case of this second round match up, it would be an absolute travesty if Pittsburgh’s game seven domination takes away from the memory of how evenly matched these teams were, and the entertainment that hockey fans were treated to because of it. 

Despite the nauseating hype from Versus, NBC, ESPN, CBC, and the planet earth, this series was not great because it was Crosby skating against Ovechkin.  It was not great because the three best players in the world were on the ice at the same time. 

It was great because the teams responded to each other like two boxers – absorbing and responding to each other’s best combinations in kind.

Consider this:  In the series, the teams played three hours, 10 minutes, and 10 seconds while tied.  Impressive, but by itself it might not be earth-shattering. 

However, the Penguins led by exactly one goal for one hour, 28 minutes, and 33 seconds. The Capitals led by the slimmest of margins for an almost identical one hour, 29 minutes, and five seconds.

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In total, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals played over six full games of hockey (6:03:48) where one lucky bounce, one missed save, or one great shot by any of the several skilled offensive players could have given a lead, or taken it away. Of note, it was 5 hours, 51 minutes and four seconds of this type of hockey before the teams left Pittsburgh following game six.

By numbers alone, this might not be a first for the NHL playoffs.  I suspect many series involving conservative, responsible, and generally boring teams played in best-of-sevens without any big leads.  The Devils of the late 1990’s were seemingly trying to win Stanley Cups scoring only 16 playoff goals.  I’m sure they can match these numbers.

However, the blockbuster we were just treated to saw 49 goals scored – seven per game on average.  It’s obviously much harder to maintain this level of scoring and this level of competitiveness for two weeks of up-and-down hockey.

Furthermore, until the series clincher, both teams had a lead in each game.  In the Penguins’ game three OT win, they only led for just over three minutes of the game.  In the Capital’s game six overtime win, the Penguins led twice, and the game-winner was Washington’s third lead.  Eight leads lasted eight minutes or less, including five that lasted less than five minutes. 

The best way to ensure you’ll get a goal?  Give one up a few minutes before.

Finally, for a series with so much hype around individuals instead of teams, take a look at the teams’ stars.

Sidney Crosby – Five of his eight goals and four of his five assists either tied the game, or gave the Penguins the lead.

Alexander Ovechkin – Five of his six assists, and six of his seven goals fit the same categories. The ither goal that went passed Marc-Andre Fleury was a game winner and a hat trick.

Combined, the two superstars not only evenly split 26 points, but 20 of them occurred when their respective teams needed to hit the net.

So as Penguins fans prepare for the next round and hope for Sergei Gonchar’s health, Capitals’ fans are preparing for next year and hoping that Simeon Varlamov is the last missing piece to a rapidly improving franchise. 

Hopefully it is not lost on the fans of either club what a series it was, and not likely to be repeated in the future.


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