2013 NHL Playoffs: About that 3-1 series lead

Still not sure what to make of the Ottawa Senators' 3-1 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens? Here's what it's meant historically.

The Ottawa Senators hold a 3-1 series lead over the Montreal Canadiens, and Paul MacLean still says the team is "scared to death". I guess that's understandable -- he can't let his team take the next game for granted, and it's certainly not unfathomable to think that the team that finished second in the Eastern Conference could win three in a row to take down the seventh seed.

However, a quick glance at history suggests that maybe MacLean shouldn't be so worried, even if he wants to tell his players that they should be.

3-1 Comebacks throughout history

Historically, teams have trailed 3-1 in a best-of-seven series a total of 229 times and have come back to win the series just 20 times, or 8.7%. For those too lazy to do the math, that means the team leading 3-1 has won 91.3% of the time. That's pretty good news for the Sens: the historic odds for winning a series when up 3-1 are better than Carey Price's 2012-13 save percentage!

The Senators are actually even better than the average in this regard, a perfect 7-0 when ahead 3-1 in the series and never even needing the seventh game:

1997-98 - Ottawa (8) v New Jersey (1) - Ottawa wins in 6
2001-02 - Ottawa (7) v Philadelphia (2) - Ottawa wins in 5
2002-03 - Ottawa (1) v NY Islanders (8) - Ottawa wins in 5
2005-06 - Ottawa (1) v Tampa Bay (8) - Ottawa wins in 5
2006-07 - Ottawa (4) v Pittsburgh (5) - Ottawa wins in 5
2006-07 - Ottawa (4) v New Jersey (2) - Ottawa wins in 5
2006-07 - Ottawa (4) v Buffalo (1) - Ottawa wins in 5

That being said, none of this means that the Senators' odds of winning are actually 91.3%, and they're certainly not 100%, either. Teams do occasionally come back from a 3-1 series deficit, and in the past decade alone, it's happened seven times. The Habs actually have come back from a 3-1 deficit twice in that span: in 2004 against Boston, and in 2010 against Washington.

Of course, all of those Senators victories (and the Canadiens comebacks) seem somewhat irrelevant: they featured different players, coaches, and opponents. The current Ottawa Senators can't say that they've got a perfect record when up 3-1, just as the current Montreal Canadiens can't take credit for pulling off two incredible comebacks in a decade. So what other dumb numbers can we look at?

Streaks this season

If we want to look at what these teams have done lately, one place to look is simply at the streaks this season. After all, for the Habs to win the series it not only requires them to win three games in a row, it also requires the Senators to lose three games in a row. So, how often did each happen?

The Habs had four winning streaks of 3 or more games: one three-game streak, one four-game streak, and two 5 game streaks. As the team that finished second in the Eastern Conference, it's not surprising that the Habs managed to put together a few streaks.

The Senators, meanwhile, had just two losing streaks of 3 or more games: a stretch of four losses in late February/early March (two being overtime/shootout losses), and that horrible slide during late March/early April where the Senators lost 5 straight in regulation. There were also a number of two game losing streaks throughout the year -- six to be exact -- but most of those included at least one overtime or shootout loss. Overall, the Senators generally managed to find ways to stay out of losing streaks, which seems to bode well for them.

What does it all mean?
Absolutely nothing. Well, it means something, I guess, but it doesn't mean much. I hoped that in going through this exercise I'd discover some sort of incredibly interesting tidbit that could put Senators fans safely at ease, but I'm not sure I did. I just ended up with the kind of meaningless stats that broadcasters like to throw out between whistles to kill time ("The Senators have never lost a game when they've scored more goals than the other team, Bob!").

Oddly enough, even though the numbers don't mean much, they are oddly comforting, aren't they? I mean, it's nice to know that the Senators have never lost a series when they were up 3-1. It's nice to know that the Senators only went on a three-or-more game losing streak twice during the regular season. It's nice to know that, historically, a team down 3-1 has worse odds than Colin Greening's shooting percentage. But most of all, it's nice to know that the Senators are up 3-1 in the series. God, that's great.

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