Here's how you define restlessness: after reading Tyler Dellow's take on the Canucks' losses in games 4 and 5 as contextualized within a history of similar series, and not within a history of the Canucks versus the Blackhawks, I decided to do a little bit of digging on my own.
It started with a simple enough quest: We've heard about the comebacks, how rare they've been. There's a space of roughly 30 years in between comebacks, but that's just half the story. Yes, only three times in the entire history of the league have teams come back to win the series from three-game deficits. But the bigger question to me was this: how many times in the entire history of the league have teams been able to actually PLAY game seven after being down by three?
which wasn't easy to find. Google searches brought back only three teams: the 2010 Flyers, the 1975 Islanders, the 1942 Maple Leafs. It felt like any team that fought back to play a game seven automatically won it, just as easily as it felt like coming back from a three-game deficit happened every other year and only the three aforementioned teams could do the deed. So thanks to WhoWins, I found all the series that ever went to seven games, and thanks to Hockey Reference, went back to every single one to find the other half of the three-deficit comeback stories.
Not counting anything that's happened this season, I found six.
- The first-ever 7-game series that actually went the the full seven games was in 1939, when the lower-seeded Rangers went down 3-0 against the Bruins. They fought back, forced a game 7, but ultimately lost.
- In 1942, the Maple Leafs made history. They went down 3-0 against the Red Wings, forced game 7, and won the Stanley Cup. The Leafs were the higher seed.
- In 1945, the Red Wings tried to pull the same trick on the Maple Leafs, again in the Stanley Cup Finals, but the lower-seeded Leafs fended off the Wings' comeback and won after letting Detroit even the series up.
- The year 1975 was fairly interesting. The young New York Islanders team pulled off a comeback against the better-ranked Penguins, as we've all heard before.
- In playing the heavily-flavored Flyers the next round, they faced a Pennsylvanian team again, went down 3-0 again, forced a game seven again, but this time they would not complete the comeback.
- Comebacks will come to develop tamer definitions in the NHL until the Flyers last year. Until the Cup Finals, the Flyers faced and defeated every higher seed they matched up against, including the Bruins, to whom they spotted a three-game lead as well.
Six series from among thousands of games is hardly what anyone can consider a sample size. But that's just how rarely this sort of thing happens. From those six instances, here's what I found:
- Three of the series resulted in NHL history. The other three were forgotten. (Half and half)
- Of these six instances, four times it was the lower seeds falling behind 3-0. They pushed it to seven games, lost twice (1939 and 1975) and won twice (1975 and 2010). Half and half, yet again.
- Interestingly enough, they happen in bunches too: the first three took place 1939, 1942, 1945 (with the same teams involved in 42 and 45). Then within a single playoff run, the Islanders went down 3-0 and pushed back for a game 7 in 1975, winning on their first try and losing on their second. And then there's this year, right on the heels of the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers.
Out of curiosity, I also went to look through all the comebacks from 3-1 deficits-- exactly 20 games in all, as well as the 18 instances of attempted 3-1 comebacks: teams that fell behind 3-1, tried to win it all in game 7, but lost.
- In the successful comebacks, ten times it was the higher seed making the comeback, ten times it was the lower. (What's another word for 50%?)
- For the attempted comebacks, the splits were slightly more in favor of the higher seed: 11 instances of the higher seed ultimately fending off the comeback versus only 7 lower seeded teams.
- Also of note: 20 successful 3-1 comebacks out of 38 attempts total. That's roughly the same percentage of 3 successful 3-0 comebacks out of 6 total.
I'd tallied one more thing as I was going down this list of series, and it might not be relevant to the Blackhawks tonight but it probably is for some teams out East. From playoffs past I know there's a statistic about winning game 5 after a series is tied. Many of these series, I'm now assuming, ended in Game 6.
- Of the 89 series winners that played all seven games and entered game 5 tied, only 48 teams had to win game 5. (What's 48 out of 89?)
- There were 41 teams that lost game 5 but emerged victorious on the seventh game anyway.