Statisticians, as a group, have tended to ignore the constant claims from athletes, coaches, and media types who use momentum as explanations for causality in sports. For example, a basketball player could be “feeling it” and demand the ball more, or an entire team could be riding the wave of good fortune and victory, either within a game or across games.
In wake of the Bruins’ game 1 Stanley Cup finals loss, a three-OT heartbreaker, I looked at teams in previous NHL playoff games decided in similarly heartbreaking fashion. The results, for Bruins fans, weren’t great.
Specifically, there have been 29 Stanley Cup playoff games which have gone to at least three overtimes but did not decide a series, and I checked whether or not momentum from winning the first initial game carried over into the next game.
Bad news #1: Of those 29 contests which followed a lengthy overtime game, the team which hosted the ensuing game won 20 (appx 70%). This makes sense: home ice would seemingly make a larger difference on tired legs.
Bad news #2: Of those 29 contests which followed a lengthy overtime game, the team which won the initial lengthy overtime game won 18 (appx 62%). This was a bit surprising (albeit possibly due to chance), but would suggest that there is some carry-over from one game to the next after these types of games.
Aggregating teams in Boston’s’ position – playing the ensuing game on the road, having just lost a lengthy playoff game – those squads won just 4 of 17 times (23%) in the following contest.
Thus, in game 2, the Bruins will be fighting to even the series, but might actually be taking on momentum and some NHL history, too.
Also, I thought this was interesting: Yesterday’s contest between Boston and Chicago was the longest lasting Stanley Cup finals overtime in the NHL’s history which occurred after each squad scored at least three goals in regulation.