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History of the Eastern Conference Playoffs

Now that the NHL regular season has come to an end, everyone is broadcasting to the world who they think will be hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup at the conclusion of the second season. In the process of proclaiming their picks, a lot of people like to point to the past as to why this is their team’s year. With that in mind, the whole point of this article is to end the speculation on what happened in the past. The article will focus on the 20 different Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchups that have occurred from the 2006-2010 playoffs. In addition, the team’s records in March and April, any kind of winning or losing streaks, and the season series will be taken into account.

At the end, we will examine what chances the 2011 Philadelphia Flyers have at repeating their magical run in 2010.

Let’s begin by analyzing the seeds that advance to the second round most frequently:

Over the last five years, the results have been consistent. The first, second, fourth, and sixth seeds have been the most frequent seeds to advance to the second round. Prior to the 2010 season, no seventh or eighth place team had advanced.

The three-vs-six match-up was an interesting result. With the exception of the 2006 New Jersey Devils, the sixth seed have upset the third seed every year. Additionally, over the last three years, the three-vs-six match-up has gone no less than six games.

The second and fourth seed have eventually become the Eastern Conference Champion 80% of the time. The 2010 Philadelphia Flyers are the only non-two or four seed to win the East (they were a seven seed).

Winning Streaks

Eight teams have taken winning streaks of at least three games or more into the postseason. 63% of the time, those teams advance to the second round.

When teams seeded in the top-four spots took a winning streak into the first round, they won their series 80% of the time. The 2008 Washington Capitals are the only top-seeded team to take a winning streak into the first round and lose. They had won seven consecutive games to conclude their regular season and then fell to the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games.

In comparison, only one team has been ranked in the bottom four seeds, had a three-game or greater winning streak and advanced to the second round. The 2010 Boston Bruins won their final three games and then defeated the Buffalo Sabres in the first round. The Bruins were the sixth seed.

The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins are the only team to conclude their regular season with a winning streak and go on to win the Stanley Cup.

Losing Streaks

There have been three teams that have taken losing streaks of three games or more into the first round of the playoffs. The 2010 Montreal Canadiens are the only one of those three to win their first round matchup. In fact, the other two teams, the 2009 Montreal Canadiens and the 2006 New York Rangers, were both swept in their quarterfinal appearance.

Three teams have entered the first round with losing streaks that were snapped on the final game of the regular season. In 2006, two of those teams met in the first round when the first-seeded Ottawa Senators played the eighth-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning. Ottawa defeated Tampa Bay in five games and then fell to Buffalo in the very next round in just five games. In 2008, the Senators lost three games prior to winning their season finale and were then swept in the first round by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It is evident that teams that struggle right before the playoffs have had very little success in making deep postseason runs. Only 33% of teams have advanced past the first round and only one team has reached the conference championship.

March and April

Since 2005-2006, nine teams have entered the Eastern Conference playoffs with a sub-500% winning percentage in March and April. With the exception of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, none of those teams have advanced to the second round. In addition, no team seeded higher than fifth has ever gone below .500% in March and April.

Having a successful final two months does not necessarily equate playoff success either. The 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins are the only instance that the team with the highest winning percentage in March and April won the Eastern Conference. In addition, there have been four instances were the lower seeded team had a better winning percentage than their first round opponent. With the exception of the 2009 Carolina Hurricanes, the higher seeded team won the series every time.

Season Series

There have been 20 first round playoff series since the 2005-2006 season. Since that time, the team who won the season series won the playoff series 76% of the time. There have been four matchups that were not impacted by the result of the season series. With the exception of the 2007 Atlanta Thrashers, the higher seeded team won each of those series (the third-seeded Thrashers were swept by the sixth-seeded New York Rangers).

There have been three instances where the two teams tied the regular season series. The higher seeded team won two of those three series. The 2008 Washington Capitals are responsible for the only instance in which the higher seeded team did not come out the victor. They lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in seven games. The Capitals and Flyers were the three-vs-six matchup.

The Present Day

This is the fourth consecutive year that the Capitals will be entering the playoffs with some kind of hot streak. The team’s .789 winning percentage in March and April is the highest since the lockout.

On the other hand, the Philadelphia Flyers will be entering the playoffs with the single worst winning percentage in March and April since the post-lock out NHL.

Boston is seeded in the dangerous three-vs-six matchup, and considering that they lost the season series to Montreal, the Bruins better stay on their toes. Remember, the sixth seed has upset the third seed every year for the past four years.

Flyers' Chances

The common bond between the 2010 and 2011 Philadelphia Flyers is that they have history against them. The Flyers weak performance in March and April is unprecedented by a team seeded in the top-four. In addition, the Flyers had a five game losing streak prior to snapping the streak on the final game of the season. The 2006 Ottawa Senators were the number one seed and lost seven games prior to winning their season finale. The Senators advanced past the first round, but they faced a Lightning team that also had a losing streak. The Senators were eventually beaten in the second round. Teams that brought any kind of losing streak into the playoffs were eliminated in the first round 67% of the time.

The Flyers also have a few things in their favor. The second seed has advanced to the second round 80% of the time. In addition, the two teams tied their season series and in the past, 67% of those series were won by the higher seeded team. In instances were the three-vs-six match-up were omitted, the higher seeded team advanced 100% of the time.

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2 Comments

Alex Mueller's picture

Love all the stats. Nice work.

Matthew Brigidi's picture

Thanks, I enjoyed your piece on goal differential. I had initially intended to include it in this study but it just got to be too many numbers. Im glad I didn't include it because your piece was really thorough.