Some playoff odds for NHL, NBA, even MLB fans

Posted By on May 9, 2011 12:04 am

Taking a brief timeout from baseball here to talk some Sharks fans off the ledge. Yes, the Sharks really blew a golden opportunity by losing Game 5 at home, but I wouldn’t worry too much. They are still in firm control of this series. Although you all may be worried about momentum and history and baggage and all those other ghastly thoughts that plague fans, I can assure you that professional athetes don’t think that way.

A few hundred best-of-seven playoff series tell me that.

If you aren’t familiar with the site, you should check it out. It slices and dices best-of-seven postseason series in MLB, NBA and NHL to show how various playoff scenarios have played out.

As a public service to Sharks fans (and also Canucks fans), here ya go…

All sports Pct. W L
Up 3-2 80.3% 514 126
after winning G5 80.0% 336 84
after losing G5 80.9% 178 42
Up 3-2 79.6% 250 64
after winning G5 80.6% 170 41
after losing G5 77.7% 80 23
Up 3-2 85.2% 202 35
after winning G5 82.8% 130 27
after losing G5 90.0% 72 8
Up 3-2 69.7% 62 27
after winning G5 69.2% 36 16
after losing G5 70.3% 26 11

What do you take from that? Well, first of all, teams that are up 3-2 have a huge advantage. When dealing with the talent margins as small as that among professional playoff teams, you are always always always better off needing to win one than two. Second, the difference between teams who “blew a chance,” by losing Game 5, and those who “took control,” by winning Game 5, is negligible. That tells me that all this talk about momentum is pretty meaningless when you are talking about professional athletes.

These guys are experts at forgetting one game and moving on to the next. They do it much better than the fans or the media. If a team is good enough to get a 3-1 advantage in a series, it is plenty good enough to forget a Game 5 loss and still pick up that fourth victory.

Believe me, I’ve stood in front of big league ballplayers a lot and asked them about how crushing a loss might have been or how much momentum they have after a win, and they usually look at me like I’m speaking another language. They aren’t wired to look at things the way you or I do. They didn’t get to the level they are by thinking that way. Every time they step on a field, court, sheet of ice, they believe they are going to win, no matter what happened in the game before. And they have the talent to win, or they wouldn’t be there.

Giants fans certainly remember the feeling after they lost Game 5 to the Phillies last year, right? Wasn’t there a feeling of “oh no, we let them back in and now we’re in trouble.” The players didn’t think that. They shrugged their shoulders and boarded their flight to Philadelphia, content that it was better to be up 3-2 than down 3-2, no matter how they got there. And they won the series.

I assume the Sharks will do the same thing.


2 Responses to “Some playoff odds for NHL, NBA, even MLB fans”

  1. Gideon Rubin says:

    Interesting take. Hockey appears to be an anomaly though. It’s the only sport where Game 5 losers (up 3-2) win at a lower rate than winners (albeit just a 2.9 percent differential). Interesting that NBA Game 5 losers (up 3-2) do so much better than the winners (90 to 82.8). Hockey might be more momentum oriented. Hockey teams come back from 3-0 “all the time,” Kobe said a few days back…

  2. Jeff Fletcher says:

    Gideon, my take on the NBA thing is that the better team is usually the one that’s up 3-1, so they have a much better record for finishing out the series, even if they take off Game 5. To win game 5 to get to up 3-2, the series had to have been tied 2-2, so those teams are more even. In the NHL I think that small margin is more likely to be random than because of “momentum”

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