The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs open Wednesday, and aside from being the best part of the hockey season, it's also the time for postseason predictions. Each spring there is no end to prognostications from all corners of the hockey media -- NHL.com's staff writers posted theirs Monday.
Each spring, however, Whatifsports.com takes a different tack from the standard hunches and presumptive conjecture, running a simulation of the NHL postseason 1,001 times while taking into account current rosters, statistics and home-ice advantage. No simulation is perfect, but a year ago Whatifsports.com pegged it right on the nose, tabbing the Bruins to top the Canucks in a seven-game Stanley Cup Final.
This season's picks aren't identical, but if Whatifsports.com's computer has its say, the duck boats will be rolling through Boston again this June after the Bruins win their second consecutive Stanley Cup in a seven-game tug of war with the Detroit Red Wings.
That the Wings are projected to make it to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final is impressive considering they don't even have home ice in their first-round series with Nashville, and that certainly seems to have been taken into account. Detroit's 63.24 percent success rate in the opening round, which Whatifsports.com predicts to go the full seven games, is the lowest of any team predicted to advance to the conference semifinals.
In fact, the Wings have their hands full each round, as they are predicted to go seven games against Vancouver in the second round and against St. Louis in the conference finals. St. Louis is predicted to reach the Western Conference Finals after a six-game win against San Jose and a seven-game win in the second round against Phoenix, which is predicted to get by Chicago in six games in their first-round series.
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In the East, Boston's path is slightly less arduous. The simulations have Boston beating Washington in the first round in five games (the Bruins defeated the Capitals in 93.81 percent of all simulations, by far the highest first-round winning percentage) before defeating the Penguins in six games in the conference semifinals. The Penguins, in what might be the most anticipated first-round series, are predicted to defeat the rival Flyers in six games, while the Rangers hold off the Senators in six games and the Devils upset the Southeast champion Panthers in six games as well.
In a renewal of their Hudson River rivalry, the Rangers are predicted to defeat the Devils in six games in the second round in what would be the first postseason meeting between the two in four years, before bowing out to the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals in six games.
The second-seeded Bruins came out as the likely champion by a significantly hefty margin, winning it all in 35.56 percent of the total simulations. The Red Wings were the second-most likely winner, lifting the Cup 16.18 percent of the time. That number speaks both to Boston's potential for sheer dominance -- in last season's predictions the B's edged the Canucks by winning 00.1 percent more of the simulations (35.96 to 35.86) -- and to the widespread parity of the playoff field.
In last season's predictions Philadelphia (11.96 in 2011) and Nashville (5.99) were the only teams aside from Boston or Vancouver to win the Cup more than 2.5 percent of the time. In Whatifsports.com's 2012 prediction, Boston, Detroit, New York (12.49), Pittsburgh (9.39), Vancouver (8.79), St. Louis (7.29), New Jersey (5), Nashville (3.40), Phoenix (3.10) and San Jose (2.70) all top that figure.
If anything, those numbers go to show that even if Boston looks like a potential runaway favorite to win it all, there is a significantly larger number of teams with valid Cup hopes tossing their hats into the ring this time around.
Even if probability isn't in their favor, in the actual Stanley Cup Playoffs you only get to do it once.
To see a postseason bracket with the complete results of the simulation and even perform your own simulations of the various first-round series, go to http://www.whatifsports.com/nhl_playoffs_2012/bracket.asp.