Much is made regarding the importance of being hot going into the playoffs, but how often does good play late in the regular season translate to playoff success?
First we have to establish a definition of 'good play'. Unfortunately there are many intangibles that go into a team's performance on any given night that make good play very difficult to measure. For simplicity's sake, we will use total points over the past 15 games (an arbitrary number but roughly equivalent to about a month's play) to determine which teams are the playing the best hockey.
The obvious flaw in this methodology is that a team can perform well by winning battles, drawing penalties and outskating opponents for a stretch of games and yet still come out with a losing record. While the players and coaching staff may feel good about the way they executed their game plan, we cannot ignore that a losing team has failed in its primary goal to go out each night and take two points.
In order to see whether the achievement of this goal translates to playoff success, I will apply what I call 'The 15 Game Test.' For each first round matchup, the team with more points over the last 15 games is my winner. I'm not taking into account seeding, strength of schedule over the 15 games, or whether or not the matchups were home/away.
Theoretically, the hotter team will most often come out a winner. Additionally, teams with significantly more points than their first round opponent over the last 15 regular season games will cruise to easy series victories.
Boston Bruins (10-4-1) 21 pts
Montreal Canadiens (5-6-4) 14 pts
Washington Capitals (10-3-2) 22 pts
New York Rangers (9-5-1) 19 pts
New Jersey Devils (7-7-1) 15 pts
Carolina Hurricanes (10-3-2) 22 pts
Pittsburgh Penguins (10-2-3) 23 pts
Philadelphia Flyers (7-7-1) 15 pts
San Jose Sharks (9-5-1) 19 pts
Anaheim Ducks (11-3-1) 23 pts
Detroit Red Wings (7-6-2) 16 pts
Columbus Blue Jackets (7-4-4) 18 pts
Vancouver Canucks (10-4-1) 21 pts
St Louis Blues (10-3-2) 22 pts
Calgary Flames (7-8-0) 14 pts
Chicago Blackhawks (9-3-3) 21 pts
-Boston, Carolina, Pittsburgh, and Chicago each beat their opponent by at least 7 points. According to our theory, these first round matchups should be landslide victories.
-The Vancouver/St Louis series is perhaps the most interesting; two of the hottest teams in the Western Conference will face off in a 3-6 matchup. Many favor Vancouver because of their goaltending and ability to score, but according to our results, St. Louis won't go down without a fight.
-The 1 and 2 seeds both probably won't fall in the West, but that's what our results say. Regardless, those two series should be very interesting.
-One last thing - this is an experiment more than anything. After the first round is over, I will come back and revisit this piece to see how well the 15 game test did against the actual results.
Enjoy the playoffs and go Rangers!