Thursday, June 11, 2009

Pens' chances are better than they seem

Today's Mainstream Media statistics du jour:
- The home team has won 12 of 14 Finals Game 7s.
- The home team has won the last 6 straight Finals Game 7s.
- The last road team to pull off the upset was Ken Dryden's 1971 Canadiens.
Obvious conclusion: The Pens are up against monumentally poor odds of winning Game 7 on the road.

"The odds of surviving a road game in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals are approximately 14 to 2!"

Or are they? Let's take a closer look at those numbers before we clear a spot in the Joe for another Cup banner.

Here are the six matchups in question since 1971:

May 30, 1987 -Edmonton (#1 Smythe) beats Philly (#1 Patrick)
June 14, 1994 - Rangers (#1 East) beat Vancouver (#7 West)
June 9, 2001 - Colorado (#1 West) beats New Jersey (#1 East)
June 9, 2003 - New Jersey (#2 East) beats Anaheim (#7 West)
June 7, 2004 - Tampa Bay (#1 East) beats Calgary (#6 West)
June 19, 2006 - Carolina (#2 East) beats Edmonton (#8 West)

In 4 of the 6 occasions, the road team was not merely an underdog but a Cinderella story -- a plucky but inferior team facing off against a heavily-loaded #1 or #2 seed. The 2-0 record in #1-vs-#1 games is relevant, but not intimidating.

Now, there's no doubt that home ice is an advantage in a one-game playoff. The home team controls line changes, faceoffs, and gets an emotional lift from the friendly crowd.

But it also helps when the home team is a star-studded juggernaut and the road team is a doormat who happened to hit a hot streak in April and May.

"Never tell me the odds!"

So, Pens fans, don't despair when the folks at NBC run the 12-2 graphic and keep talking about the 6-game streak. You're facing nothing more than a 1-2 streak over the past 38 years for legitimate contenders playing a 7th game on the road.

For a shot at immortality, those are pretty good odds.

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