Thursday, February 5, 2009

Can Anyone Catch the Bruins?

Before you read, let me provide a disclaimer: I hate cocky fans who think their team cannot lose. I hate fans who jinx their own team. I hate announcers who say "shutout" with 10 minutes left in the game. The point of this analysis is not to ruin my own team down the stretch.

Nevertheless, we're getting close to that part of the season where we can cautiously project end-game scenarios for each team. Like the guy on CNN who plays with the map on Election Night, we can "call" certain races before all the votes are all tallied. With that in mind, I'm going to call the Eastern Conference race in favor of Boston against every team other than Washington and New Jersey.

What makes this decision interesting is that Washington has a 3-point advantage over the Devils (which is very significant when there is so much ground to cover), but the Devils have played one fewer game and still have two head-to-heads against Boston. In that respect, New Jersey is currently in a better position to make a charge for the Eastern title. For this analysis, I will ignore the head-to-head games (too many W/L scenarios to track) but I will include the Devils' games-played advantage.

Here are a few scenarios to help you handicap the possibility of a last-minute finish:

IMPLOSION: The Bruins inexplicably pull a Senators and fall off the face of the earth. They go 10-20 over their last 30 games.
To catch the Bruins:
Washington must still have a winning record at 16-14.
New Jersey must go 17-12-1, a very respectable stretch run.

MEDIOCRITY: For whatever reason, the Bruins lose their mojo and go an ordinary 15-15.
To catch the Bruins:
Washington would need to go 21-9, considerably better than their current win%.
New Jersey would need to go 22-7-1, or roughly the same win% as the Bruins have this season.

SLIGHT DROPOFF: Boston runs into some tougher competition and goes 20-10, a slight slowdown from their current pace.
To catch the Bruins:
Washington must go 26-4 to tie. Um...
New Jersey must go 27-2-1. Either of these would be legendary comebacks.

EVEN KEEL: Boston just keeps plugging along at its current rate, going 22-8. Based on recent results, this is the most likely scenario.
To catch the Bruins:
The Caps would need a 28-2 record to tie.
New Jersey would need a 29-0-1 streak, challenging the 1979-80 Flyers' record 35-game undefeated streak.

EVEN BETTER: Somehow, the Bruins actually step up their game and go 25-5. Neither the Caps nor Devils could mathematically catch up, even if they won all their remaining games.

Projecting forward:
For every Boston win, and for every Caps and Devils loss, the likelihood of a comeback drops significantly. If the Bruins can maintain a 10-point gap entering their 2/28 game against Washington, a win in that game would effectively clinch the conference.

If that were the case, Boston would play the final 6 weeks of their schedule without any pressure to jockey for playoff positioning. Their only motivation for winning would be to try and get the #1 overall seed from San Jose, to hone their execution in advance of the playoffs, and to keep the roster as healthy and productive as possible.

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Anonymous said...

According to this, it's simply unfeasible to catch the Bruins at this point. Over 9.9 million simulations out of 10 million had Boston finishing first in the East, and 1000 of the simulations that had you finishing lower than that were sims forced to end up 0-30-0. You still made the playoffs in 9 of those!

Tom said...

Wow... that's about as decisive as you can get without being formally clinched. Thanks for the link.

Bruins Buff said...

Great stuff. B's are in great shape!