The Stanley Cup finals start tonight with the Blackhawks taking on the Bruins. The model makes a straightforward prediction as always: Chicago was the better team during the season (prorated to a regular number of games, Chicago had a 53 goal differential advantage), and so they are predicted to win 73% of the time, probably in 5 or 6 games. But let’s take a little look at how each team got here to see if there’s anything else to learn.
Boston is the 4 seed from the East and started by hosting the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins split their first two home games but then took games 3 and 4 in Toronto (game 4 in overtime) to go up 3-1. They then proceeded to drop games 5 and 6 by identical 2-1 scores and were well on their way to losing game 7 at home before a ridiculous comeback that they capped by winning in overtime. If you like your playoffs exciting, this was a good series.
The Bruins moved on to face the Rangers, who had upset the Capitals in the first round. Boston won the first three games, one in overtime, then dropped game 4 in overtime before getting the ‘gentleman’s sweep’ in game 5. So to recap, Boston so far is 5-2 at home with two overtime wins and 3-2 on the road with an overtime win and loss.
The win over New York gave the Bruins the privilege of facing the Penguins in the conference finals, where Boston surprisingly swept Pittsburgh right out with one overtime win at home. That moved Boston to 7-2 at home, three of those wins in overtime, and 5-2 on the road, 1-1 in overtime. Their largest loss has been by two goals but they’ve won by two or more six times. The 4-1 record in overtime is probably a little flukey, but the 8-1 record outside of overtime is awfully solid. Boston has been playing well.
Chicago is the number one seed in the West as well as the President’s Trophy winner for most points in the regular season. They also had a very good goal differential and a winning streak that you might have heard of. The Blackhawks had what was described as a slow start against the Minnesota Wild, which consisted of winning game 1 in overtime, losing game 3 in overtime, and winning the other three games by 3, 3, and 4. I’m not so sure I would call that a slow start, but the media can be awfully demanding.
Chicago got their test in the second round when they played the Red Wings. Chicago took the first game fairly easily but then lost three straight to put themselves in quite a hole. Like Toronto against Boston though, they won the next two to force a game 7; unlike Toronto, their game 7 was at home and they won it in overtime.
The Blackhawks wrapped up the Western conference by beating the defending champ Kings 4-1. They dropped the third game in L.A. but won game 5 at home in overtime. Overall, Chicago has gone 9-1 at home with two overtime victories and 3-4 on the road with one overtime loss. Aside from the overtime loss Chicago has always lost by at least two, but they’ve also won 7 games by two goals or more.
Obviously both teams have played well to make it to the Finals. Chicago’s road record looks a little worrisome in comparison to Boston’s, but keep in mind that Boston won three home games in overtime, which is usually more of a 50/50 proposition. We could easily be pointing at Boston’s 5-3 or 4-4 home record as a little shaky. Also, I have yet to see any indication that home ice actually means anything in the playoffs, and Chicago has that ‘advantage’ to even out any potential road problems. Chicago has tended to lose by more when they lose, but they also have more big wins. So overall it looks like the two teams have performed fairly equivalently. I’ll go with the model and give Chicago the edge, but the excitement of NHL playoff hockey is that you never know.