Before playing Philadelphia and Toronto, Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella was asked about the importance of the final weekend’s games.
“All coaches are trying to get their team tracking the right way and not into a lot of bad habits,” he said. “But what do you do if you don’t?”
Here Tortorella threw up his hands in mock surrender. “We can’t play the playoffs. We didn’t have a good couple of weeks here. We’re not going to go.”
Tortorella was obviously joking, but how much does momentum truly matter?
The current playoff format has been in place for two seasons now. In those two years, there have been 16 first round series, and in those series, the team with a better points total in their final ten games of the regular season went on to win 69 percent of the time. By comparison, the team with the better overall record over the course of the entire regular season won 63 percent of the time.
In other words, with an important caveat about sample size, momentum has been a slightly more important factor than even seeding.
The teams that won their first round series had a combined record of 95-53-12 in their final ten regular season games, while the teams that lost? They posted a combined record of 82-56-22 in those games.
Three teams went into the playoffs on extended slides. Minnesota lost five straight before falling to Dallas in six games back in 2016. In 2015, Chicago actually advanced out of their first-round playoff series after dropping four in a row…but they were facing a Nashville squad that had fallen in 6 straight*.
Only one team that qualified for the postseason the past two years did so after having won fewer than four of their last ten games. That was the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2015, which went 3-5-2 before losing to the Rangers in five.
So what did Tortorella propose to overcome these odds, given that giving up isn’t an option? “You deal with it,” he said simply.
*That included one loss in overtime and another in a shootout.