April 30, 2013

Late-season slumps doom Stanley Cup hopes

By Jesse Connolly


The Bruins, seen here after their Game 7 loss to Washington last spring, might be looking just as somber at the end of this year's first-round series against Toronto if they continue to play as poorly as they did to close out the regular season. (Getty Images)
 

It’s a line we hear all too often, year after year, especially throughout May and into June: “They got hot at the right time.”

Every season, NHL teams aim to be playing their best hockey as they enter the playoffs, with their ultimate goal being to ride that roll all the way to a Stanley Cup. The eighth-seeded Los Angeles Kings did it last year, finally figuring things out offensively in the late stages of the season to complement the superb campaign their netminder, Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.), was having. Once they put the two together, L.A. was an unstoppable force in the postseason, going 16-4 en route to the first championship in franchise history.

What an NHL team doesn’t want to do at this time of the year is lose their way and back into the playoffs. Simple logic dictates why, but what do the numbers say?

I took a look at how the last 25 Stanley Cup champions fared in the last 10 games of the regular season in their respective championship years. What did I find? Well, I’ve got some bad news for the Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota Wild – the three 2013 playoff teams with a losing record over their last 10 games: Of the 25 most recent Cup winners, only two of them have entered the playoffs with a sub-.500 record in their final 10 regular season games.

In 2002, the Detroit Red Wings managed to rebound from a woeful 1-3-4-2 finish – the worst mark of any playoff team since 1994 (and possibly even further back) – going 16-9 in 25 postseason tilts to win the ninth of their 11 Stanley Cups in franchise history, defeating the Hurricanes 4-1 in the finals.

In 1992-93, the final year before the league switched to the East-West setup, Patrick Roy and the Habs went 4-6-0 in their last 10 games, but reached the finals and beat Wayne Gretzky and the Kings.

Here are a few numbers worth sharing from this side of the research:

  • The last 25 Stanley Cup champions went a combined 135-78-37 (merging ties and overtime losses) over their final 10 regular season tilts.

  • They earned an average of 12.28 points, out of a possible 20, over those last 10 games.

  • The 1988-89 Calgary Flames had the best record over the final 10 games of any of the last 25 champions, entering the playoffs on an 8-2-0 run.

  • Four of the 25 most recent Cup winners won seven or more of their last 10 tilts.

  • Twelve of the 25 most recent Cup winners won six or more of their last 10 games.

  • Two of the 25 most recent Cup winners ended the year on a .500 run: the 2000 Devils (5-5-0-0) and the 1990 Oilers (4-4-2).


Jonathan Quick (Hamden, Conn.) backstopped the Kings to glory in 2012. (Getty Images)


Here’s the breakdown for each team over the past 25 years (teams that ended the year on a sub-.500 run are in bold). Be sure to keep scrolling down to Part II of this piece, which examines how each of the playoff teams with sub-.500 records in their last 10 regular-season games fared in the postseason.

2012 – Los Angeles (5-2-3)
2011 – Boston Bruins (6-3-1)
2010 – Chicago Blackhawks (6-3-1)
2009 – Pittsburgh Penguins (7-2-1)
2008 – Detroit Red Wings (7-2-1)

2007 – Anaheim Ducks (5-3-2)
2006 – Carolina Hurricanes (5-3-2)
2004 – Tampa Bay Lightning (5-4-0-1)
2003 – New Jersey Devils (5-0-4-1)
2002 – Detroit Red Wings (1-3-4-2)

2001 – Colorado Avalanche (6-3-1-0)
2000 – New Jersey Devils (5-5-0-0)
1999 - Dallas Stars (6-4-0)
1998 – Detroit Red Wings (6-4-0)
1997 – Detroit Red Wings (4-3-3)

1996 – Colorado Avalanche (6-4-0)
1995 – New Jersey Devils (5-4-1)
1994 – New York Rangers (7-2-1)
1993 – Montreal Canadiens (4-6-0)
1992 – Pittsburgh Penguins (6-3-1)

1991 – Pittsburgh Penguins (5-3-2)
1990 – Edmonton Oilers (4-4-2)
1989 – Calgary Flames (8-2-0)
1988 – Edmonton Oilers (6-2-2)
1987 – Edmonton Oilers (5-4-1)

Since the switch from the Campbell and Wales conferences, there have been 41 teams to qualify for the playoffs after finishing the year with a sub-.500 record in their last 10 regular-season games. Of those 41, only Detroit has captured the Cup.

  • Those 41 teams to finish with a sub-.500 record in their last 10 regular-season games have combined to go 179-218 in the playoffs.

  • Of those 41 teams, 23 teams have lost in the first round of the postseason. That’s 56 percent, meaning 44 percent have survived their opening-round series.

  • Of the 18 teams that have won in the conference quarterfinals, 11 have bowed out in the second round. That means that 34 of the 41 teams have failed to advance past the second round. That’s 83 percent.

  • Of the seven teams to win two rounds, three have lost in the conference finals: the 2010 Canadiens, the 2008 Stars and the 2001 Blues.

  • Three squads have advanced to the Cup finals and lost: the 2010 Flyers, the 2009 Red Wings and the 1996 Panthers.

  • And, of course, we have the one team out of the 41 that defied the odds and won it all: the 2002 Red Wings.

  • Over the last 18 seasons, there have only been two years in which all playoffs were .500 or better in their last 10 regular-season games: 2006-07 and 1999-2000.

  • The highest number of playoff teams with sub-.500 record over their last 10 games is four, which occurred in 1995-96 and again in 1996-97.

  • Those 41 teams combined to play in 70 playoff series. That’s an average of 1.70 per team. Their record as a whole was 30-40.


Steve Yzerman and the Red Wings overcame a late-season slump to win the Cup in 2002. (Getty Images)
 

Here’s the year-by-year breakdown, featuring each team’s record in their 10 games, their playoff result, their playoff record then the combined playoff and series records for the sub-.500 clubs:

2011-12
Florida Panthers (2-3-5): Lost in first round (3-4)
Ottawa Senators (4-6-0): Lost in first round (3-4)

Playoff Record: 6-8
Series Record: 0-2

2010-11
Philadelphia Flyers (3-4-3): Lost in second round (4-7)

Playoff Record: 4-7
Series Record: 1-1

2009-10
Philadelphia Flyers (4-5-1): Lost in Cup finals (14-9)
Montreal Canadiens (3-4-3): Lost in conference finals (9-10)
Colorado Avalanche (3-5-2): Lost in first round (2-4)

Playoff Record: 25-23
Series Record: 5-3


2008-09
New Jersey Devils (4-5-1): Lost in first round (3-4)
Philadelphia Flyers (4-5-1): Lost in first round (2-4)
Detroit Red Wings (3-6-1): Lost in Cup finals (15-8)
Calgary Flames (4-6-0): Lost in first round (2-4)

Playoff Record: 22-20
Series Record: 3-4


2007-08

New Jersey Devils (4-5-1): Lost in first round (1-4)
Ottawa Senators (3-6-1): Lost in first round (0-4)
Dallas Stars (3-5-2): Lost in conference finals (10-8)

Playoff Record: 11-16
Series Record: 2-3


2006-07

No playoff teams were sub-.500 in their final 10 games.

2005-06

Ottawa Senators (3-5-2): Lost in second round (5-5)
New York Rangers (4-6-0): Lost in first round (0-4)

Colorado Avalanche (4-5-1): Lost in second round (4-5)
Playoff Record: 9-14
Series Record: 2-3

2003-04
Colorado Avalanche (2-5-1-2): Lost in second round (6-5)

Playoff Record: 6-5
Series Record: 1-1


2002-03

Boston Bruins (3-4-3-0): Lost in first round (1-4)
New York Islanders (3-5-2-0): Lost in first round (1-4)
St. Louis Blues (3-5-2-0): Lost in first round (3-4)

Playoff Record: 5-12
Series Record: 0-3

2001-02

Philadelphia Flyers (2-7-1-0): Lost in first round (1-4)
Detroit Red Wings (1-3-4-2): Won Stanley Cup (16-9)

Playoff Record: 17-13
Series Record: 4-1

2000-01
St. Louis Blues (3-4-2-1): Lost in conference finals (9-6)
Vancouver Canucks (2-5-3-0): Lost in first round (0-4)

Playoff Record: 9-10
Series Record: 2-2


1999-2000

No playoff teams were sub-.500 in their final 10 games.

1998-99

Pittsburgh Penguins (2-6-1): Lost in second round (6-7)
Phoenix Coyotes (4-6-0): Lost in first round (3-4)
Anaheim Ducks (2-5-2): Lost in first round (0-4)

Playoff Record: 9-15
Series Record: 1-3

1997-98
New Jersey Devils (3-5-2): Lost in first round (2-4)
Colorado Avalanche (3-6-1): Lost in first round (3-4)
Los Angeles Kings (4-6-0): Lost in first round (0-4)

Playoff Record: 5-12
Series Record: 0-3


1996-97

Buffalo Sabres (2-5-1): Lost in second round (5-7)
Florida Panthers (3-4-3): Lost in first round (1-4)
Pittsburgh Penguins (4-5-1): Lost in first round (1-4)
Edmonton Oilers (3-5-2): Lost in second round (5-7)

Playoff Record: 12-22
Series Record: 2-4

1995-96
New York Rangers (4-6): Lost in second round (5-6)
Florida Panthers (3-6-1): Lost in Cup finals (12-10)
Chicago Blackhawks (3-4-3): Lost in second round (6-4)
St. Louis Blues (1-5-4): Lost in second round (7-6)

Playoff Record: 30-26
Series Record: 6-4

1994-95
Dallas Stars (3-5-2): Lost in first round (1-4)

Playoff Record: 1-4
Series Record: 0-1


1993-94
Montreal Canadiens (3-6-1): Lost in first round (3-4)
Toronto Maple Leafs (4-5-0): Lost in second round (5-7)

Playoff Record: 8-11
Series Record: 1-2

Twitter: @JesseNEHJ
Email: jconnolly@hockeyjournal.com