Only 14 percent of teams rally from 2-0 series deficits. Only four teams have ever fought back from 3-0. Which of the six winless squads are finished – and which have glimmers of hope?
We chop up and analyze every last statistic. We argue. We make bold predictions. Then the post-season starts, and nothing plays out exactly as predicted. We may have picked the Boston Bruins to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs – but no one other than Eugene Melnyk forecasted total humiliation. Some pundits, including yours truly, decided to believe in Vegas, but who expected a 3-0 series lead?
Six teams in the 16-team playoff field haven’t won their first games yet. Which are least likely to rally? And which still have hope? Here’s a ranking, 1 to 6, with 1 representing the team with the worst odds of coming back.
To be clear, though: every one of these teams is on the ropes. It wouldn’t be smart money to bet on any of them to rally. Teams up 2-0 go on to win the series 86.4 percent of the time. Ranking last on the doomsday list is not a prediction of a series comeback. It’s merely an indication a comeback is possible.
1. Colorado Avalanche (trail 0-2 to Nashville Predators)
The Avs are the easiest pick here because they’re doing exactly what everyone predicted they would do. Yes, they’ve given the Predators a lot more pushback than expected, especially in Game 2, but this is still the bottom Western Conference seed down 2-0 to the Presidents’ Trophy winner. Nothing out of the ordinary is happening here. Nashville has been the better possession team and has outshot Colorado in both games. That doesn’t mean Colorado can’t win a game in this series, but its defense was depleted without Erik Johnson and will look even more barren if Samuel Girard (upper-body injury) isn’t ready for Game 3.
The best team in hockey hasn’t lost yet, so there’s no reason for us to expect Nashville not to be part of the 86.4 percent. It’s no insult to Colorado, which has been impressive thus far – but the Preds of all teams aren’t going to lose four of the next five games.
2. Los Angeles Kings (trail 0-3 to Vegas Golden Knights)
The Kings have been plenty competitive with the Golden Knights thus far, losing by three goals combined in three games. A 3-0 deficit feels unfair and, in some ways, artificial, as L.A. played Game 2 without the suspended Drew Doughty. Considering Vegas needed overtime to win that one, it’s fair to believe the Kings would’ve won that game with Doughty. Marc-Andre Fleury has also made the scoreboard look good, stopping 96 of 99 shots for a .970 save percentage, while Jonathan Quick has turned away 104 of 110 shots for a .945 SP.
Only four teams in NHL history have rallied from an 0-3 deficit to win a playoff series. So why don’t I put the Kings at the very top of the doomsday rankings with the worst odds of a rebound? Well, for one, they’ve been very much in every game. Secondly, one of the four teams to overcome an 0-3 deficit was, of course, the Los Angeles Kings in 2014. Their Game 3 lineup against Vegas Sunday boasted 11 members of the 2014 comeback team. This group thus knows how to take it one game at a time and won’t panic. No way. That said, the odds of another miracle remain miniscule, especially since winning the series now means taking two games in Vegas. On a game-by-game basis, the Kings still have a good chance at winning any given contest, but zoom out and the big picture tells us it’s a very tall order.
3. Anaheim Ducks (trail 0-2 to San Jose Sharks)
The Ducks are in huge trouble, having lost both home games to start their series and playing without top defenseman Cam Fowler. But they’re also no strangers to doing this thing backward. Last season in Round 2, they dropped their first two games at home to the Edmonton Oilers, then roared back to win the next two games in Edmonton and took the series in seven games. The year before that, Anaheim fell behind 2-0 to the Nashville Predators with two home defeats before fighting back to force a seven-game series, though it ended with a loss.
So the Ducks have the experience to fight back. But do they have the defensive depth with no Fowler? It doesn’t look like it. While studs Josh Manson, Hampus Lindholm and Brandon Montour have above-average possession numbers relative to their teammates in this series, the bottom half of the Ducks ‘D,’ consisting of Francois Beauchemin, Kevin Bieksa (one game), Marcus Pettersson and Andy Welinski (one game), has been badly overmatched. This group misses Fowler, Sami Vatanen and Shea Theodore.
Anaheim’s attempt to win with old-school muscle, the way it did under coach Randy Carlyle during 2007’s Stanley Cup run, has fallen flat so far. The Ducks have outhit San Jose 61-46 with little to show for it besides handing San Jose nine power plays, and Sharks goaltender Martin Jones has been the best player on either team in the series, stopping 53 of 55 shots.
We’ve seen little thus far to suggest Anaheim is the better team, and now it heads on the road for two games with little reason for optimism.
4. New Jersey Devils (trail 0-2 to Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Devils haven’t played or lost a home game yet, so it’s too early to declare them dead. Despite allowing five-spots in both games so far in the series, they’ve actually been the better team territorially. They blitzed Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy with 44 shots in Game 2. Really, if Tampa had gotten even average goaltending from Keith Kinkaid in this series, it could be 1-1. Kinkaid has imploded, allowing nine goals on 46 shots for an .804 SP. Cory Schneider stopped 10 of 10 shots in relief in Game 2. He gets the crease back after relinquishing it to the red-hot Kinkaid during the regular season stretch run. With all due respect to Kinkaid, who was as responsible as anyone for helping the Devils make the playoffs, he couldn’t have played worse in Games 1 and 2, so Schneider represents an automatic upgrade. The Devils also should get a home-crowd lift hosting their first post-season game since 2012. Game 3 will tell us a lot in this series. The Devils aren’t done yet if they get better goaltending and become a bully at home.
5. Toronto Maple Leafs (trail 0-2 to Boston Bruins)
Relative to expectations, no team has been embarrassed worse so far in the 2018 playoffs. The Leafs set a franchise record with 105 points in the regular season and had won seven of eight meetings with Boston in the Auston Matthews era before this series started. What followed has been utter domination from Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak, a.k.a the best line in hockey, and the Leafs have emotionally crumbled. Goaltender Frederik Andersen looked spastic, almost like he was pressing with the team in front of him so shaky, and he wound up pulled in the first period of Game 2. The Leafs have shown little composure, taking childish penalties, with Nazem Kadri earning a three-game suspension for a cheapshot on Tommy Wingels in Game 1 and Ron Hainsey taking a penalty that directly led to a back-breaking power play goal in Game 2. On both occasions, the Leaf players were “sticking up for a teammate” and instead just hurting their team by taking selfish penalties.
So why do we have any reason to hope the Leafs can rally? For one, few teams have been better on home ice this season. Toronto set a franchise record with a 13-game winning streak at the Air Canada Centre, and its 29-10-2 home mark was the NHL’s third best. For all the talk of the Vegas Flu, the Leafs had the exact same home record. It’s strange to factor intangibles into a series so much, but no first-round matchup has been more influenced by emotion thus far. The bad penalties, the puck-chasing on defense – they all seem characteristic of Toronto being overwhelmed by the Boston atmosphere. Theoretically, the Leafs should come out gangbusters in Game 3, playing with their best trait – furious, ceaseless speed on offense. If they do that and win two games at home, they guarantee themselves a third home date, and it’s anyone’s series after that. If Matthews doesn’t find a way to show his star power soon, though, the Leafs are done.
6. Washington Capitals (trail 0-2 to Columbus Blue Jackets)
Two home losses for the perennial playoff-choking Caps. Woof. But both came in overtime, and Washington held a 3-1 lead halfway through Game 2. This series is evenly matched despite Columbus’ two road victories. Washington also yanked Philipp Grubauer in Game 2 for Braden Holtby, the team’s long-time starter, who also happens to boast the second-highest career playoff save percentage in NHL history. Holtby’s struggled uncharacteristically this year but should have a mental lift now as the guy taking the job back instead of the scuffling starter looking over his shoulder – assuming coach Barry Trotz goes back to him for Game 3, which we have to assume will be the case.
And while Blue Jackets starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky was solid across Games 1 and 2, posting a .920 SP, his career post-season SP is .892. He’s been a volatile spring goaltender game to game in his career. So there’s an opening for Washington to exploit if Holtby gets hot. Washington outshot Columbus 58-30 in Game 2. If not for subpar goaltending from Grubauer and some poorly timed penalties, this series could easily be 2-0 in Washington’s favor. It’s not over.