In '98 five of the eight 1st rd. series were won by the team with fewer Olympians).
In '06 same story, five out of eight.
The previous time the Olympics were held in North America (Salt Lake City '02), four of the eight 1st round series were won by teams with fewer Olympians and all four were in the Eastern Conference.
(To the fact backcheckers: If the two teams matched up in any series had an equal number of Olympians I went with the higher seed as the "pick" which only happened twice and both in '98--Detroit vs. Phoenix in rd. 1 and Washington vs. Buffalo in rd. 3)
If we take this two steps further along the playoff trail, here're the results through round three (or Conference Finals) each Olympic year for the teams with fewer Olympians:
'98 10 of 14 series won
'02 5 of 14
'06 9 of 14
So use the following info as you like:
'06 Olympians per playoff team
Washington (5 players) vs. Montreal (6 players)
New Jersey (5 players) vs. Philadelphia (4 players)
Buffalo (5 players) vs. Boston (7 players)
Pittsburgh (5 players) vs. Ottawa (5 players)
San Jose (8 players) vs. Colorado (3 players)
Chicago (6 players) vs. Nashville (6 players)
Vancouver (7 players) vs. Los Angeles (6 players)
Phoenix (3 players) vs. Detroit (8 players)
I could go further and show you how the teams with fewer players in the Final Four of the Olympic tournament did, but there's virtually no difference statistically so let's move on.
So, how would you call it in '06? I think you have to look at '02 and figure the weaker conference will see the "fewer Olympians" theory hold true. In '02 that was the Eastern Conference and in '06, it's the same so I think we can all see the Capitals, the Flyers (who have beaten the Devils 5 of 6 this season), the Sabres (beating Boston without Marc Savard) and the Penguins going through, can't we?
Out West, well, will it mirror '02 and the teams with more Olympians reverse the fatigued Olympic roster curse? That's the '08 R.J. Umberger third-liner turned playoff goal scorer question.
Since '95, of the 28 teams who went to the Conference Finals, only 9 made it back there (or even went one better and made the Final or took the Cup). Fifteen teams missed the playoffs altogether or lost in rd. 1.
The glimmer of statistical hope for the Blackhawks is teams that improved (or at least did not drop in the league standings) from the previous season have a pretty terrific record:
'99 Dallas Stars finished 1st overall in '98 and again in '99 and went on to win the Cup that season.
'02 St. Louis Blues finished 6th in '01 and '02 and won their 1st rd. series before bowing out in rd. 2.
'07 Buffalo Sabres went from 5th to 1st overall and got back to the Conference Finals.
'07 Anaheim Ducks jumped from 12th to 4th and won the whole kit and kaboodle (1930s' translation: the Stanley Cup).
'08 Detroit Red Wings went from 2nd to 1st overall and took their fourth Cup in the Nicklas Lidstrom era.
'10 Chicago Blackhawks moved from 6th in '08/09 to 3rd overall this season so will they float down the Mississippi like St. Louis in '02 or will they follow the pattern of the vast majority of these other teams in question?
A Hat Trick of Curse BustingThe Crosby-era Penguins have become Cup champions without even having to go through the stupendous upset loss. Yes, even the Detroit Red Wings had to suffer not only one shocking upset (the '95 Devils sweep in the Final) but a few more both before and after as favorites before winning in '97. The Penguins may have lost the '08 Final, but they went in as underdogs so the loss as tough as it was could not have been unexpected.
Then the Pens destroyed the the losing Cup Finalist curse. You know the one where every losing Cup Finalist since 1994 has never made it back to the Final the next season. In fact 10 of the last 14 "losers" actually missed the playoffs or lost in the 1st round the season after.
Well, now the Crosburgh Malkguins are attempting to do what no team has done since '98, repeat as champions. Would you bet against them?
Wither Bingo Bango Bongo?
Roberto Luongo has played extremely well (.930 career save percentage) in the playoffs but not well enough in elimination games ('09 Game 6 vs. Chicago and '07 Game 6 vs. Anaheim). We all know he has played well for Canada in a pinch hitting role subbing in the '04 World Cup semi-final and this past '06 Olympics.
This isn't international hockey though so there's the rub. I'll leave you to speculate on how you think Luongo will play in the '10 playoffs but reserve judgment even if the Canucks get past the Kings. It's winning two rounds of playoff hockey that puts you in at least the '06 and '07 Ryan Miller category.
Are You Experienced?
Aaaargh! I'm tired of hearing this.
You do not need an experienced playoff goalie to go deep in the playoffs.
Prior to Marc-Andre Fleury helping the Penguins get to their first Final in '08, he had a grand total of 5 NHL playoff games.
Cam Ward who led the 'Canes to the Cup in '06 had zero playoff games under his belt given he was a rookie . . . and a backup behind Martin Gerber going in to that year's playoffs!
I could go on and on but, if you want to go deep in the playoffs, more times than not, you're better off with a fresher, healthier, less mileage on the goal pads goaltender.
Plus forget looking at regular season save percentage otherwise no one would ever think Jose Theodore could consistently win at least one round year after year.
So take all that for what you will and make your picks.
Tomorrow a look at the scorers to take in your playoff pools.