Data visualization: Blackhawks’ 2015 Stanley Cup win inevitable

By Eshan Wickrema and Lachlan James

The Chicago Blackhawks won the 2015 Stanley Cup Finals of the US National Hockey League (NHL) over an insistent Tampa Bay Lightning, claiming the series 4-2. In fact, all five games leading to the decisive sixth match were decided by just one goal.

But, what even the most avid Bolts and Hawks fans (and NHL fanatics in general) may not have known, is that Chicago, despite the tough competition, were firm favourites from the first game of the best-of-seven series.

‘How so’ you ask? We’ll show you how with Business Intelligence software and data visualization.

NHL Finals: Probability of victory by series-leading team (all-time)

Note: Statistics indicating the probability of the series-leading team winning the next Finals game, and the best-of-seven Finals series overall, were sourced from www.whowins.com/home.html

Insights

  • The team that clinches Game 1 of the NHL Finals series (The Chicago Blackhawks in 2015) goes on to win the series 77.3% of the time.
  • Tampa Bay defied the odds in Game 2, levelling the series at 1-1, despite the fact they only had a 34.7% chance of winning after initially going down in the first game of the Stanley Cup.
  • Even though the probability of securing a series victory was unlikely after giving up Game 1, The Lightning can actually consider themselves unlucky series losers from Game 4 onwards. After securing a 2-1 lead in Game 3, history indicated that Tampa Bay had an 81.3% chance of winning the series.
    • Although, it’s interesting to note that the leading team in an NHL Finals series has the lowest probability of winning when heading into Game 4 with a 2-1 lead (52.1%).
  • The strongest position to hold in an NHL Finals series is 3-1 – teams in this position go onto win the series 96.9% of the time
    • Curiously, teams holding an almost-insurmountable 3-1 lead only have a 56.3% chance of winning Game 5.
    • Unlike the NBA Finals series, where no team has ever lost after holding a 3-1 (or 3-0) lead, at no stage in the NHL Finals does a team have a 100% probability of claiming the series.
      • However, the team leading the best-of-seven NHL Finals always has the odds in their favour, with the chance of winning both the series and the next game always above 50%.
      • Check out Yellowfin’s data blog on the NBA Finals HERE >

Lightning only strikes twice in 2015 NHL Finals
Despite a spirited effort – which saw them take a 2-1 lead midway through the best-of-seven 2015 NHL Finals series – the Tampa Bay Lightning could only manage two wins, eventually succumbing to the Chicago Blackhawks 4-2. Two quick goals in the third period by Teuvo Teravainen and Antoine Vermette saw Chicago snatch a 2-1 win in Game 1 and, with it, a 77.3% probability of claiming the series win. Even though this likely scenario is exactly how the Stanley Cup played out, Tampa Bay fans can consider themselves a little unlucky.

Against the odds, the Bolts overwhelmed the Hawks in Game 2 with four goals (even with replacement goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy), despite history indicating Tampa Bay had an unlikely 34.7% chance of victory in the second match after losing Game 1. Furthermore, after Cedric Paquette gave The Lightning a 3-2 victory in Game 3, they had an 81.3% chance of capitalizing on their 2-1 series lead to win the 2015 Stanley Cup.

But, while some might consider Tampa Bay to be unlucky based on these figures, did they make the most of home crowd advantage?

NHL Finals: Home and away winning percentages (all-time)


Insights

  • The average winning percentage for teams playing at home in the NHL Finals is 57.9%
  • The average winning percentage for teams playing on-the-road (away) in the NHL Finals is 30.7%
    • While teams playing at home during the NHL Finals have enjoyed a winning edge over the history of the Stanley Cup, it’s clear that playing away is tough, with a winning differential of 27.2% compared to home games

Chicago makes most of on-the-road opportunities
Played in a 2-2-1-1-1 format, the best-of-seven series saw Tampa Bay host games one, two, five and seven; with Chicago hosting games three, four and six.

The significance of Chicago’s victory in Game 1 was underscored by the fact that it was a Tampa Bay home game, with the history books only giving Chicago a 30.7% chance of winning the first match. Given the slight advantage of competing at home in the Stanley Cup (57.9% probability of winning), combined with the marked disadvantage of attempting to win NHL Finals on-the-road, the Bolt’s comeback in Game 2 at home is perhaps also less remarkable. Conversely, Tampa Bay’s ability to take a 2-1 series lead playing away to Chicago in Game 3 was applause-worthy. After securing a 2-1 lead in Game 3, history indicated that Tampa Bay had an 81.3% chance of winning the series. But, it appears that two historical statistics combined to thwart their efforts.

Firstly, the leading team in an NHL Finals series has the lowest probability of winning when heading into Game 4 with a 2-1 lead (52.1%). Combined with the fact that Game 4 was a Chicago home game, is it any wonder the Blackhawks were able to level the contest at two apiece?

The real nail-in-the-coffin for the Bolts came in Game 5, where the Hawks snatched an upset victory on the Bolts’ home turf, taking the momentum of a regained series lead (3-2) to Chicago for Game 6.

Ultimately, the difference was the two teams’ ability to win at home, with Chicago winning two of three home games, and Tampa Bay only one of three.

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