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RandBall: The grind of a seven-game series

  • Blog Post by: Michael Rand
  • May 6, 2014 - 10:24 AM

Just how much does it take out of a team to have to play a seven-game playoff series? Numbers guru Nate Silver attempts to answer that question, albeit using the league -- the NBA -- that is of lesser use to a Minnesota sports fan right now. Per Silver's research:

Since the NBA went to a best-of-seven first round in 2003, teams that swept their first-round series won their second-round series 76 percent of the time. Teams that needed five games to beat their first-round opponent won the next series 60 percent of the time. But those teams that needed six games to win the first round won the second round only 34 percent of the time, and those that took the full seven games did just 36 percent of the time.

One may assume these results reflect selection bias: The teams that won their opening series in four or five games were presumably better, on average, than those that took longer to do so. But this is only part of the story. Suppose we look only at teams seeded No. 1 or No. 2 in their conferences. Since 2003, teams from this group that swept the first round won the second round 94 percent of the time. Those that required five games won the second around 77 percent of the time. And those that needed six games or seven games won the second round 62 percent of the time.

It stands to reason that teams that won in just four or five games were on a roll and/or better rested as they headed into those second-round matchups. What is harder to quantify is the emotional wear and tear that comes from a seven-game series.

How does this translate to the NHL? Well, we went back and looked at the previous five years of NHL playoffs, from 2009-13. We didn't just look at the first round, but every round leading up to the finals. Teams that needed seven games to advance were an even 11-11 in their next series -- with a handful of those matchups being a meeting between a pair of teams that had advanced from seven-game marches. Teams that swept a round 4-0 ... well, they were even worse off, going 5-6 in the next round.

Maybe the sample sizes are too small. Or maybe it just doesn't matter as much in hockey. Either way, Wild fans can take heart. At least in terms of history, this series against Chicago is far from over. In 2003, for a final piece of history, the Wild won back-to-back seven-game series. Then it was whitewashed in four games by Anaheim, but for this round anyway the point stands.

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