Streaking (at Home) for the Stanley Cup


Co-authored with Joakim Ryan

Who’s going to be hotter — the Tampa Bay Lightning or the Chicago Blackhawks?

Streakiness is one of the concepts — like clutchness, choking, and luck — that we often use to make sense of a multi-game series like the Stanley Cup Finals.

Does the evidence, though, support team-level momentum effects from one game to the next?

If there were such evidence, it would place a premium on starting strong in a series to take advantage of the cascading benefits.

On the other hand, maybe the whole idea has as much basis as the folktale that “the two-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey.” The evidence on that question is that — even while there’s a logic to the idea that teams that are (slightly) behind will take better risks — the fact is that it’s most typically better to gain a two-goal lead since such teams do not disproportionately lose.

For streakiness in pursuit of Lord Stanley’s Cup, we looked at scores in the 203 NHL Finals contests that have been held since 1977 to see if winning a given game (Game X-1) helped predict the outcome of the subsequent game (Game X). To gain a fixed reference point, we calculated the score differential from the perspective of the team with Home Ice Advantage (for the series) and noted whether a specific game was played at home or away. If the Home-Advantage team won the first game of a series by, say, 3 goals, then – when looking at the outcome of the subsequent game (Game X), the value for “Game X-1” would be +3.

What we found is that (1) winning Game X-1 has no influence on winning the next one (Game X) and (2) winning Game X-1 by a large margin (e.g., running up the —> Read More