With two game 7s in the books (and again slightly behind schedule), it’s time to make predictions for the second round of the NHL playoffs. The results of the first round were only surprising if you’ve never watched hockey before. Both number 1 seeds won their series, but both 2s, 3s, and one 4 seed lost. On the other hand, if you go by better goal differential then five series went as you would expect. And hey, five is more than the four you’d expect by chance! Right? Since that’s what my model goes by, it went five of eight in the first round, being surprised by Ottawa, the Rangers, and Detroit (pleasantly so in that case). What does it see for round 2?
With game 1 already in the Penguins’ favor, we might as well start there. Pittsburgh had a little trouble with the Islanders in the first round, giving up a fair number of goals and losing two games. Ottawa upset Montreal but made it look easy, moving on in five games and getting two different 6-1 victories. That being said, the Penguins have an (adjusted for season length) 58 goal advantage over the Senators, so the model sees them winning 74% of the time. Two wins for the Senators would be reasonable (as the model virtually always says that a series will go six). With Pittsburgh winning 4-1, the series is off to a predictable start.
The other game going tonight is Kings-Sharks. After losing their first two games to the Blues, the Kings won four straight to take their first series. Hockey playoff series tend to be close because of the noise inherent to single NHL games, but these guys took it to heart: the two teams were within a goal of each other or tied for all but five minutes over the course of the six games (including two overtimes). So say the Kings were the better team if you want, but that sounds awfully even to me. The Sharks swept the Canucks, which sounds more impressive, but even then two of the games went to overtime. Regardless, results lead to beliefs which lead to stories, so the Sharks are ‘hot’ right now. The Kings had the better goal differential in the regular season, so the model expects them to win 55% of the time, victory coming in six games.
Moving to tomorrow night, the Red Wings will face the Blackhawks. Detroit made the playoffs in the last days of the season and needed seven games, including a 3-1 record in overtime games, to get to this point. Anaheim actually outscored them overall. Chicago had a dominant regular season and took care of the Wild in five games, so they look to be in pretty good shape. And indeed, Chicago swept the regular season series. But three of the four games went to overtime, so maybe it’ll be closer than expected? With a 76 goal advantage though, the model sees Chicago winning 80% of the time with the Wings taking two.
The last series is Boston and New York (and isn’t it always?). Both teams are coming off of game 7 victories, so momentum is on both sides. Boston had two wins in overtime while the Rangers only ever lost to Washington in overtime, though, so Boston will have a blatant clutch advantage. It will probably come into play since Boston was only 7 goals better in the regular season; the two teams will be very evenly matched as far as the model knows. It sees Boston winning 53% of the time with the Rangers taking two.
So there you go. If everything goes ‘as expected’, which it never does, we’ll have Chicago and L.A. in the West Finals to determine who gets the winner of Boston-Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup Finals. But if Detroit, San Jose, New York, or Ottawa make it, don’t be surprised.