Riding A Hot Streak Going Into The Playoffs: Does It Matter?
Does season form transform into playoff success?
By Bob Duff
Hot or not? When it comes to the Stanley Cup playoffs, does it matter?
Can a team on a losing skid as the regular season draws to a conclusion suddenly set the wheels back in motion and get rolling again in the right direction as postseason play commences, or should you avoid betting on those who stumble to the regular season finish line?
History suggests that while hot isn’t a mandatory requirement to cop the Cup, not is a definite no go.
Teams that are on a skid as the playoffs near generally keep on skidding right off a cliff as the playoffs get underway.
A check of the past 10 teams to reach the Stanley Cup final over the previous five springs shows that, while not all of these clubs were shooting the lights out as they arrived at the playoffs, none of them were shooting blanks.
Last spring, the Pittsburgh Penguins were on fire as they charged toward postseason play. Sidney Crosby and company won 14 of their last 16 regular-season games and just kept on rolling all the way to their fourth Stanley Cup title in franchise history.
The San Jose Sharks, Pittsburgh’s vanquished opponent in the 2015-16 Cup final, entered the playoffs treading water, going 5-5 in their last 10 games.
One year earlier, the Chicago Blackhawks went into the playoffs on a four-game losing streak and 5-7 in their last 12 games, coming home third in the Central Division. Certainly by far the worst mark posted by any recent Stanley Cup winner to close out a regular season but again, not dismal. The losing finalist Tampa Bay Lightning won their last three games and went 8-5 down the stretch.
Both the champion Los Angeles Kings (8-3-2) and losing finalist New York Rangers (9-2-2-) were on fire as the 2013-14 NHL season wound down. The 2012-13 champion Blackhawks finished out 9-2-1, while the Boston Bruins, the team that fell in the final to Chicago, was 7-6-3 down the stretch.
In 2011-12, both the Cup-winning Kings (9-2-3), the only No. 8 seed to win a title, and losing finalist New Jersey Devils (6-0) came into the playoff chase on fire and ready to roll.
So, as the 2016-17 Stanley Cup playoffs get ready to begin, which teams should you be backing, and which clubs should you avoid because they are likely to find themselves packing up early in the spring?
Let’s start with the danger zone. The defending Western Conference champion Sharks stumbled 4-9 down the stretch and look to be the weakest of the 16 playoff teams based on their current form. The Calgary Flames recently unleashed a 10-game winning streak but of late they finished 2-4 and look as if they’ve shot their bolt. The Columbus Blue Jackets were a dreadful 1-6-1 to finish the season, and while the Minnesota Wild won their last four games, they were 7-10-2 in their last 19.
As to who is holding the hot hand, the list includes some of the key contenders like the Washington Capitals (10-2), the Blackhawks (8-2-5), the Montreal Canadiens (8-3-1) and the Anaheim Ducks (9-2). The Bruins were 6-2, while both the Capitals and the St. Louis Blues went 22-8-2 from Feb. 1 until season’s end.
Teams you might not at first consider to be in with a chance who are rolling include the clubs of last two first overall NHL draft picks – Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers (8-1) and Auston Matthews and the Toronto Maple Leafs (9-4-1).
When seeking to wager on a Stanley Cup winner, focus on the latter group and avoid the former bunch and odds are, you will find a winner.