NHL Playoff Preview From WhatIfSports.com image

2009 Stanley Cup Playoff Preview

Results of 10,000 simulations of the NHL Playoffs
By Paul Bessire, WhatIfSports.com
April 13th, 2009

It's about time. I mean the city has not won a major sports championship in two whole days. As if Boston, a town that was once starved for titles, yet has ruled the national athletic landscape for the better part of a decade, needs it. Since the turn of the decade, the Patriots have three Super Bowls, the Celtics won the 2008 NBA title, and the Red Sox broke an 86-year curse to two World Series champions. Now, the Bruins are the prohibitive favorites to bring the Stanley Cup back to Beantown for the first time since Bobby Orr led them to a title in 1972. In fact, the 2009 NHL Playoffs set up nicely for fans of historically great American hockey teams as we should finally see two "Original Six" franchises - Boston and Chicago - in the Finals.

With its super computer on a roll (more below), WhatIfSports.com now focuses on hockey. We have simulated the Stanley Cup Playoffs 10,000 times in order to determine the exact likelihood of each of the 16 teams an making it to any level. Last year at this time, we accurately predicted Detroit would win the Cup over Pittsburgh and even had many of the scores in the Finals close.

Thorough results of the simulations can be found at BracketPreview.com. A recap of some of the more interesting points is below, but we encourage you to check out the Bracket Preview page to see it all.

The Boston Bruins are really good. On the season, the team finished second in the league in scoring with 3.29 goals a game and led the NHL in goals allowed at just 2.32 goals a game. That yielded a 0.98 average scoring margin that was more than a third of a goal greater than the next best team. In goal, Tim Thomas has been spectacular, saving 93.3% of shots on goal. In front of him, the team is exceptionally balanced with nine players scoring more than 40 points and five players, including the team's leading goal-scorer and 2005 first round draft choice, Phil Kessel, shooting better than 15%. In four years of publishing the NHL Bracket Preview, the Bruins are the first team we have ever predicted that, on average swept its first round opponent. In this case, Boston has a 99.6% chance of advancing past Montreal, whom it faced when the roles were reversed last season. The Bruins then have a 92.2% chance of making the Eastern Conference Finals, a 78.9% chance of playing for the title and a remarkable 62.8% chance of winning the Stanley Cup. All of those are all-time highs for this analysis.

In the East, it's clearly Boston and then everyone else. There are actually no upsets predicted as more likely than not in the first round for either conference, so Washington (68.7%), New Jersey (73.7%) and Pittsburgh (54.9%) also advance to the second round defeating New York, Carolina, and Philadelphia respectively. In that scenario, which occurs 27.6% of the time, there is no need to re-seed teams, but it is important to note that the simulations do re-seed each round (best seed plays worst seed) when necessary. In the conference semi-finals, Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils pull a mild upset, advancing to the conference finals as a three-seed 59.7% of the time. With such a strong conference presence in the Bruins, New Jersey only makes it into the Stanley Cup Finals 12.8% of the time, winning it all 6.3%. Philadelphia, Pittsburgh and Washington all win the Cup between 0.4% and 0.9% of the simulations. New York and Montreal never win the championship.

With at least four solid teams, including Detroit, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, and San Jose, the NHL's points leader, the Western Conference is a little more up for grabs than the East. Again, no upsets are likely in the first round as San Jose (88.2%), Detroit (69.9%), Vancouver (86.3%) and Chicago (95.0%) all advance past Anaheim, Columbus, St Louis, and Calgary. Due to re-seeding, a mind-boggling phenomenon occurs with the odds of teams making it to the Western Conference Finals: three teams are greater than 50% to make it that far. Chicago leads the way at 60.1% and is followed by Vancouver at 54.5% and San Jose at 50.8%. Obviously, it is impossible for all three teams to make it, but this suggests that it is extremely likely that the Western Conference Finals will involve two of these teams. In fact, the main reason the numbers favor Chicago reaching the Western and Stanley Cup Finals most often is because the Blackhawks have the easiest path out of the first round. Once the first round finishes, those three teams would really be about even "on paper" (or "in computer" in this case). Chicago advances to the Stanley Cup Finals 41.2% of the time, winning it 11.8%. The Blackhawks are followed by Vancouver at 27.9% in the Finals and 8.3% winning it and San Jose at 22.4% and 7.2%. Detroit has just a 1.3% chance of repeating as champions. And, St. Louis, Calgary and first-year participant Columbus fail to win it all.

So after Detroit won last year, two other Original Six franchise will be competing for the Cup this season. Maybe Boston will let another starved city win it all this time.

With our recent success of choosing North Carolina to dominate the NCAA basketball tournament, Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl (by four points), the Phillies over the Rays in the World Series, the Celtics taking out the Lakers in NBA Finals (in exactly six games), Detroit over Pittsburgh in the Stanley Cup (as of the end of the regular season) and last year's March Madness, we feel we have illustrated the power of our simulation capabilities. Not only can we help you settle historical debates, we have a knack for predicting the outcome of future events as well.

Once the actual Stanley Cup Finals are set, we will have an in-depth feature with boxscores, play-by-play and game recaps for each game of the series.

Paul Bessire is the Product Manager of Content and Quantitative Analysis for WhatIfSports.com, a division of FOX Sports Interactive. With any comments, questions or topic suggestions, Paul can be reached at BtB@whatifsports.com. Thanks!

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