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The first shall not be last

Friday, 05.30.2008 / 11:00 AM / Columns

By John Kreiser - NHL.com Columnist


The team that has opened the scoring through the first three games in this year's Stanley Cup Final, as Sidney Crosby did in Game 3, has not lost.
Crosby scores opening goal in Game 3
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PITTSBURGH -- It's always a good idea to score first. But as this year's Playoffs have gone on, it's become imperative for teams that want to win.

Overall, teams that have scored first in the postseason this year are 59-23, a winning percentage of .720. That's well ahead of the regular-season winning percentage of .664. But teams that score first have been on a roll. They've won 16 consecutive games since Philadelphia overcame an early 1-0 deficit to beat Montreal 4-2 and eliminate the Canadiens in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. That includes the last two games of the conference semifinals, all 11 games in the conference finals and the first three games of the Stanley Cup Final.

Teams that have scored first in those 16 games have been so dominant that they've trailed in just one of those games – and for all of 1:21, the amount of time it took the Penguins to tie Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals after Philadelphia overcame an early 1-0 deficit. Sidney Crosby scored at 14:11 of the opening period after Mike Richards had put the Flyers ahead at 12:50. Since then, teams that have spotted their opponents a lead have been caught, but not passed.

After two – Needless to say, with teams that have scored first so dominant, those clubs have been perfect when leading after two periods. The last 16 teams that led after 40 minutes have won the game. The last team to overcome third-period deficit and win the game was the San Jose Sharks, who were down 2-0 after two periods in Game 5 of the Western Semifinals against Dallas, but scored twice in the third period and won the game in overtime. Overall, teams that lead after 40 minutes are 56-12 in this year's Playoffs, a winning percentage of .824 – but that's actually lower than the regular season, when teams that led after two periods had an .857 winning percentage.

Game 4 blues – Someone has to win Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final, but neither the Detroit Red Wings nor the Pittsburgh Penguins have a great history in the fourth game of Playoff series.

Game 4 has been tougher for the Wings than any other. They are 40-51 in the fourth game of Playoff series, including 1-2 this year. Their only win came in Denver, when they completed a sweep of the Colorado Avalanche. Detroit has won only four of its last 10 Game 4s.

But the Penguins have struggled even more, especially at home. Overall, they are 17-22 in Game 4s. But at Mellon Arena, they are only 6-11 and have dropped their last seven games since a 4-1 win over Philadelphia in 1997. They've dropped two games to New Jersey and one each to Toronto, Philadelphia, Washington, Buffalo and Ottawa. Three of the losses have come in overtime, including a five-OT defeat at the hands of the Flyers in 2000.

Blowing a lead – After losing the first two games of the Stanley Cup Final, the odds are unquestionably against the Pittsburgh Penguins being able to rally and capture the Cup.

But it's not impossible.

Teams that lead 2-0 in a Playoff series are a good bet to win -- including this year's playoffs, they've won 252 of 289 times, a winning percentage of .872. No team has lost a series when leading 2-0 since 2006, when both Carolina (Eastern Quarterfinals) and Edmonton (Western Semifinals) lost the first two games but rallied to win the next four.

However, of the 37 times a team has blown a 2-0 lead, the Wings have done it six times, tying them with Boston for the most by any other team. Detroit also has two of the three blown 2-0 leads in the Stanley Cup Finals, losing in seven games to Toronto in 1942 and in six to Montreal in 1966.

Pittsburgh has overcome a 2-0 series deficit three times, including once each in their Stanley Cup years of 1991 and 1992. The Penguins lost the first two games to Boston in the 1991 Semifinals, then won the next four games and spotted Washington a 2-0 lead in the first round in 1992 before rallying to win in seven games. They also lost the first two games to Washington in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in 1996, but came back to win the next four games.

But should the Penguins lose Game 4 on Saturday night, history says they're done. Only one team, the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs, overcame a 3-1 deficit in the Final. Those Leafs actually trailed 3-0 against Detroit before winning the last four games and the Cup.
   

Quote of the Day

Not only is it a great idea, but if you don't [start using analytics] you're going to fall behind. You have to be on the cutting edge. It was [Arizona Coyotes assistant general manager] Darcy Regier who said, 'If you didn't invent it, you have to be the second- or third-best copier, because if you're fourth or fifth you've got no chance.'

— Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock on his interest in advanced statistical analysis