With a 3-1 win against the Calgary Flames at Scotiabank Saddledome on Wednesday, the Anaheim Ducks completed a four-game sweep in the Western Conference First Round series and became the first team to advance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Despite winning in four games, it wasn't very one-sided, according to the underlying numbers.
Each of the four games was decided by one goal, minus empty-net goals, meaning a single bounce could have changed the outcome of any game.
Based on the 10 first-round sweeps that have occurred since 2005-06, an average of 1.9 of the four games are decided by one goal. The last time a series was decided by four straight one-goal games was in the 2003 Stanley Cup Playoffs, when Anaheim swept the Detroit Red Wings in the first round. The Ducks were outshot by the Flames, 138-122; they were outshot 171-120 in their sweep of the Red Wings.
[RELATED: Complete Ducks vs. Flames series coverage]
The average shot differential is 136-114 in favor of the sweeping team, which outshot its opponents in eight of the 10 sweeps. The two exceptions were the Vancouver Canucks, who were outshot 131-120 against the St. Louis Blues in 2008-09, and the New Jersey Devils, who were outshot 114-104 against the New York Rangers in 2005-06. Each team was eliminated in the next round.
However, a team outshooting its opponent doesn't mean that they outplayed them, or that the series was even. If one team is kept to a high volume of harmless shots from the outside, and the other team takes high-danger shots from up close, the shot count will not be a reliable indicator of which team controlled the play. But that wasn't the case in this series.
By any statistical measure, Calgary was even, or had the slight edge in this series in the volume and the quality of shots, and where most of the action took place.
- The Flames led the Ducks 128-107 in scoring chances, according to Natural Stat Trick.
- In terms of rebounds, the Flames led the Ducks 14-9, according to Corsica Hockey.
- Calgary led Anaheim 18-12 in shots off the rush, according to Corsica Hockey.
- Calgary's shots were taken closer to the net, from an average of 32.8 feet; Anaheim took its shots from an average of 34.3 feet.
- At 5-on-5, 68 faceoffs took place in the Anaheim zone, compared to 64 in the Calgary zone.
If the series was so close, and arguably even tilted in favor of the Flames, what led to the Ducks winning in four games?
Having lost 29 straight games in Anaheim, including the playoffs, puck luck could have been a deciding factor in a short, tight series like this one.
Video: Breaking down the Ducks vs. Flames series finale
Puck luck can come in many forms, including bad bounces, broken sticks, key injuries, missed calls, and hitting crossbars and goal posts. In Calgary's case, it was a combination of its shooting and goaltending going cold at the wrong time.
During the regular season, the Flames scored on 7.6 of their shots at even-strength, which fell to 1.9 percent against the Ducks. Brian Elliott's regular-season save percentage of .910 dropped to .888. Just as a hot goalie can steal a series, one who gets cold at the wrong time can lose it. Without those sudden drops, this series could have ended in favor of the Flames.
Consider Game 3 at Scotiabank Saddledome on Monday when the Flames ended the second period with a 4-2 lead. During the regular season, the Flames were 33-0-1 when leading after two periods, for a League-leading .971 winning percentage. In contract, the Ducks were 2-19-7 when trailing after two periods, for a .071 winning percentage that ranked 27th.
However, the Ducks came back and won the game 5-4 in overtime, marking the second time all year that the Flames lost a game when carrying a lead into the third, and only the third time the Ducks had won when trailing. Whether it was puck luck, or something else, it serves as an excellent example of what led to Anaheim winning quickly.
Despite its rapid conclusion, this was a very tight series, and one in which the Anaheim may even have been on the weaker side. That, and the fact that six of the 10 teams who swept their opponents in the first round since 2005-06 were eliminated in the second round, will have to be kept in mind before placing high expectations on the Ducks in the second round, where they will face the winner of the series between the San Jose Sharks and the Edmonton Oilers.