June 19, 2013 by
How important have Games 3 & 4 proven to be in predicting the outcome of the Stanley Cup Finals?
There’s a school of thought that says Game 3 in a best-of-seven series is exceptionally pivotal and a bellwether for which team is going to ultimately win the series. After the Boston Bruins’ 2-0 win in Monday’s Game 3 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals, I’m certainly hoping this proves to be true.
But I’m skeptical of theories like this. For one, they don’t differentiate between a series that is an overwhelming rout and those that were dogfights. Telling us the keys to the 1997-98 Detroit Red Wings, who won both Stanley Cup Finals in sweeps had anything to do with winning a particular game in the series is to miss the point.
To pick up on this same theme, I would be less than impressed with any theory built around data compiled when the three great NHL dynasties of the modern era—the Gretzky Oilers, the early 1980s New York Islanders and those dastardly Montreal Canadiens from 1976-79. In all three cases we again have a case where the only predictive element you need is to know that one team was a helluva lot better than their opponent.
Therefore I decided to go through the Stanley Cup Finals played since 1990, focus in on series that were genuine close battles and see how important Game 3—as well as tonight’s Game 4—were in knowing how things would ultimately work out. 1990 was chosen as the starting point, because that’s when all the three dynasties above were finished and a reasonable level of parity in the pursuit of the Cup had taken hold. While Edmonton made it back to the Finals against the Bruins in 1990 that was without Gretzky and thus eligible for inclusion in this little study.
In either case, my first criteria was to throw out series where one team won the first two games (as Edmonton did in 1990 en route to the Cup). They aren’t applicable to this year’s Chicago-Boston battle, and in either case of the seven teams to fall behind 0-2 and win Game 3 ,only two were able to use that as a springboard to hoist the Cup (the 2011 Bruins and 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins). This criteria also eliminated a nice chunk of the late 1990s, as the NHL had its Finals end in sweeps for four straight years (1995-98). I haven’t formally researched it, but I’m going to guess that’s unprecedented for any of the Cup Finals, NBA Finals or World Series.
Therefore, we have nine instances since 1990 when the teams split the first two games. Two of those cases produced situations we’re all hoping for right now, what we’ll call the “cascade effect.” Where the momentum irreversibly swings and the Game 3 winner closed it out in five games. Montreal did it to the Los Angeles Kings in 1993, while Detroit nailed Carolina this way in 2002.
But we have to stay realistic and assume this series is going to stretch into next week and at least make it back to Boston for Game 6 next Monday. There are seven instances of a Finals starting 1-1 and going at least six games.
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