With the Stanley Cup Finals slated to begin tonight, sport fans will see something that doesn’t happen frequently in the NHL playoffs. The Los Angeles Kings are only the second team to eliminate the #1, #2, and #3 seeds from the playoffs in the same postseason and make the Finals as an 8 seed. They will face-off against the 6 seed out of the Eastern Conference, New Jersey Devils. So how rare is it that two lower seeds meet for a championship in the NHL? Let’s take a look back at past NHL seasons and find out.
For this blog, when I refer to lower seeds, its means teams seeded 5 through 8. I have always heard from hockey fans that the NHL playoffs are more exciting than the NBA playoffs because any team can win a series no matter their seed. With a Stanley Cup matchup of a 6 vs. 8 this year, it’s hard to argue against that. The NHL does not have the popularity of the other major sports leagues but they still produce exciting games and series come playoff time. I wanted to find out if the lower seeds, most of them underdogs, played their way through the playoffs more in NHL and then compare this to the NBA.
I researched the past 12 NHL and NBA seasons (including this year) and compared the number of lower seeds that moved on in each round. I looked at the Conference Quarter Finals, Conference Semifinals, Conference Finals, and Finals. I simply counted how many times a lower seed won a series in each round of the playoffs. If teams met in the Finals as the same seed, they were not included in the percentage.
- Conference Quarters – 32 out of 88 (36%)
- Conference Semis – 19 out 44 (43%)
- Conference Finals – 9 out of 22 (41%)
- Finals – 2 out of 9 (22%)
- Conference Quarters – 21 out of 96 (22%)
- Conference Semis – 10 out of 48 (21%)
- Conference Finals – 13 out of 22 (60%)
- Finals – 5 out of 9 (56%)
I realize this is not the most scientific approach to breaking down the NHL and NBA playoffs , but some numbers did jump out to me. Through the first 2 rounds, the NHL holds a decisive advantage in competitive play. Even with a NHL lockout in the 2004-05 season, they held an advantage in the first two rounds in most wins. The numbers for the NBA in the later rounds are a little skewed due to the fact that since the 2000-01 season, there was never a team seeded 5 through 8 in the finals. This means most of those wins were 2,3 and 4 seeds beating each other. In comparison to the NHL, there have been 5 teams seeded 5 through 8 to make the finals, including 2 this year.
In conclusion, when the Finals roll around, in the NHL and NBA, most of the teams participating in them are the higher seeds, 1 through 4. So this year is very unusual in the NHL and hasn’t even come close in recent history in the NBA. When comparing the two sports leagues the NHL does provide more upset winners through the early playoff rounds and for the purpose of this blog, wins the battle.
- Stanley Cup Finals Preview (gongshowgear.com)
- Stanley Cup finals preview: Kings vs. Devils, playoff experience (prohockeytalk.nbcsports.com)