No doubt many pundits and wannabes will attempt to look brilliant (or at least make headlines) by picking the hottest teams in the league as the season ends. The theory seems sound - entering the playoffs red hot and on top of your game should give you a jump on your opponent, particularly if your opponent is struggling.
Not so, says Ken Campbell over at The Hockey News. His historical findings suggest it's probably not a good thing to be too hot going into the playoffs.
Since the league went to its four-round playoff format with everyone playing in the first round in 1979-80, just four teams have gone from being the best team in the final 20 games to Stanley Cup champions – the 1981 and ’82 Islanders, 1984 Oilers and 2004 Lightning, which was tied with Detroit with 28 points down the stretch.Campbell points out that just last season we saw more evidence of this. Detroit had 35 points in the final 20 games and faced the limping Edmonton Oilers in round one. The Oilers, a touch over .500, won the series in 6 games en route to an unexpected Stanley Cup finals appearance.
In three of the past four playoffs, the top team in the final 20 games has not advanced past the second round of the playoffs and last year’s winner, Carolina, was a rather unimpressive 9-8-0-3 in its final 20.
Since 1979-80, teams that had the best record down the stretch have gone on to play an average of just 1.6 playoff series that spring.
The Oilers should give hope to those fans of teams that aren't exactly playing well entering the playoffs. History, too, suggests that if your favorite team is struggling as the season ends, don't be too quick to dismiss their chances. While no team that has been the worst in the final 20 games of a season has won a Stanley Cup, there are certainly examples of spring woes.
Four times the Canadiens have had sub-.500 records going into the playoffs and won the Stanley Cup, including 1986 (8-11-1) and 1993 (9-11-0).
In 2000, the victorious Devils were 9-10-1 down the stretch, while Edmonton was 7-8-5 in 1985.