#203: NHL Playoffs, Round 3
Through two rounds of action this season, "The Experiment" seems to have a slight edge over "The System" in predicting winners, though it, too, is far from perfect.
For Round Two, however, both methods yielded three winners and one loser. Steeltown Sports accurately predicted the Canucks, Lightning, and Sharks, while the experiment correctly predicted the Canucks, Sharks, and Bruins. Overall, the System is 7-5, but the experiment is 9-3.
Half of the second round series were thrillers (both Western Conference matchups), but the Eastern Conference featured two stinkers (unless you're a Boston or Tampa fan). Still, eight of twelve series have gone longer than five games and five of those have gone all the way to Game 7.
First, a thumbnail sketch of the series that were.
#1 Vancouver vs. #5 Nashville
While "The System" and "The Experiment" both picked Vancouver, "The Experiment" gets the edge because it nailed the correct number of games (6).
This series was better than expected because only one game was decided by more than one goal (because one game had an empty-net goal to make the final margin two), two of the contests went into overtime, and there were plenty of late-game heroics from both sides.
For the series, Vancouver enjoyed a Shots-on-Goal Differential (SOGD) average of only +3.7 per game, a figure that seemed to belie the regular season tendencies.
That said, Vezina Trophy candidate Pekka Rinne for the Predators played very well, probably even better than his cross-ice counterpart (and fellow Vezina nominee) Roberto Luongo. Of all the teams in the second round, the one I would have most expected to be swept would have been Nashville. Far from reality.
Regardless, their elimination means that, once again there is no team remaining in the tournament who had a regular season SOGD in the negative, and therefore cannot win Lord Stanley's Cup.
Another nugget from the Round Two preview to keep in mind going forward is:
For those prediting [sic] a Vancouver appearance in the Stanley Cup [Final], this match-up buoys it because San Jose and Detroit are likely to destroy each other in other other Western Conference Semifinal.
#2 San Jose vs. #3 Detroit
This series was not as high-scoring as expected, and the San Jose in 6 games prediction by both "The System" and "The Experiment" was off.
Still, the projected winner (and my projected champion) survived.
Just like Nashville/Vancouver, every game except one was decided by one goal (Game 6's 2-goal differential was the result of an empty-netter), and featured two games that went beyond regulation
Antti Niemi, Cup winning goaltender just a season ago, raised his game for the most part, withstanding a desperate surge from Detroit late in the final game. Once again, though, they system predicted San Jose would have about a 2-shot advantage per game.
As it turns out, each team shot the puck an equal number of times, so the differential was a perfect 0.
It's one of those series that make you wish the hockey postseason would never end. Unlike...
#1 Washington vs. #5 Tampa Bay
The strange thing about the SOGD system is that it doesn't always align with what actually happens when the teams in question get together (as has already been alluded to twice).
Tampa Bay had a +0.6 SOGD advantage over Washington, but they were outshot in three of the four games, for a 4-game average of five shots per game. The first three games of this series were close, decided by one goal (or an empty netter). In Game Four, the only game where Tampa outshot the Capitals, Tampa crushed them on the scoreboard, but only fired the puck one more time than Washington.
Tampa still has the best save percentage in the playoffs (93.8%) with Boston (see next capsule) right behind.
#2 Philadelphia vs. #3 Boston
This capsule is going to be longer and more exciting than this series was.
First, credit where it is due.
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas cannot afford to take a step back if his team is to advance.
In three of the four games, Boston's netminder posted a save percentage above 95%. In game one, his 91.2% mark was average, but his offense gave him seven goals.
As for as SOGD, Philadelphia played this series about what the statistics would have indicated. They won that battle in three of the four games (won big in Games 2 and 3), and the series differential favored the Flyers by an average of 5.5 shots per game.
In complete contrast to Thomas, Philly's goaltending failed to save 90% of the shots it faced in three of the four contests. Game 2, the contest in which goaltending was not an issue, went to overtime, and the B's withstood a 54-shot barrage from the hosts.
"The Experiment" selected the correct winner while "The System" fell on its face like a Philadelphia goalie.
Now, onto the Conference Finals.
#1 Vancouver vs. #2 San Jose
The "experts" pick vs. my pick.
San Jose has been my projected champion from the start, though they are not the Shots-on-Goal Differential juggernaut of past champions like the 2010 Chicago Blackhawks or the 2008 Detroit Red Wings.
As I alluded above, Vancouver backers had to enjoy the San Jose/Detroit series two-fold, because it was entertaining hockey, and the Sharks could be exhausted after withstanding a desperate Detroit team for four straight contests.
San Jose, however, outperformed a much better team (Detroit) than Vancouver (Nashville) in the second round. It is actually more likely that San Jose will be stronger than Vancouver as a result and steal Game 1 and home ice advantage.
Either way, both of these teams have been unable to reach the Stanley Cup Final (1994 for the Canucks, never for the Sharks), so the victor will be exorcising a demon.
As with the Eastern Conference contest (see below), the goaltending matchup will be a lot of fun to follow. After all, Niemi defeated Luongo last year...
"The System" says: Sharks in 6. (Official Pick)
"The Experiment" says: Canucks in 6.
#3 Boston vs. #5 Tampa Bay
The "experts" pick vs. my pick. Again.
Yes, the Penguins were my initial pick to represent the East, but both here and on my radio program (as well as various comment threads on social media websites), I mentioned (or alluded) that the winner of the PIT/TB series would play for the Cup.
Both teams are equally rested or rusted. Both teams have experienced the breeze of a series sweep and endured the attrition of a seven-gamer. Both teams have an aging goaltender who will not be denied.
What I find most intriguing from a statistics standpoint is that both teams have had to ride their goaltenders (Tampa more so than Boston), and both squads swept their respective Round 2 matchups despite being outshot, on average, by at least five shots per game.
This postseason, Boston has had a tendency to do better shooting the puck on home ice (and it has that advantage this series), but Tampa has the better overall regular season statistics with regard to shots on goal.
Still, in the postseason, these two teams have given up the most shots per game (35.5 for Tampa, 34.4 for Boston), but Boston has shot the puck a lot more per game (33.8 vs Tampa's 27.5)
Therefore, it appears that the outcome of this showdown will revolve (once again) around the performance of 41-year old Lightning goaltender Dwayne Roloson. However, regular season statistics are the trend that outcomes seem to follow, regardless of whether "The System" or "The Experiment" is the superior determinant.
The B's and the Bolts. Buckle up.
"The System" says: Lightning in 7. (Official Pick)
"The Experiment" says: Bruins in 6.
"The System" and "The Experiment" are different in both series. Go, System!
What might be my favorite, big-picture part of this postseason is that in 70 games so far this playoff year, there have been only eight fights. Maybe this is par for the course, but it seemed like hockey fights were way up during the regular season from recent years. It's good to see that come back to Earth and fans actually get to watch hockey instead of Boxing on Ice.
Your comments, as well as your own predictions, are welcome.