After the Stanley Cup: A Close Look at Second Place Teams

A single elimination tournament is the most efficient means of determining whose names belong on Lord Stanley’s Cup, an award that the Chicago Blackhawks undoubtedly deserve. For those of us who aren’t Blackhawks fans, we want to know where our teams fall into the lineup, and a single elimination playoff format doesn’t have anything to say about who is the second best playoff team. It could have been the Western Conference champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning. But it could have been one of the other teams that Chicago waded through on their way to the finals, such as the Nashville Predators or the Anaheim Ducks.

(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)
(Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports)

Losing to Champions

Chicago’s playoff run was remarkable this year in its duration. Two of the series, against Nashville and Anaheim, went significantly into extra time, an area in which Nashville excelled throughout the regular season, but not as much in the playoffs.

Related: Nashville: Predators in Extra Time.

There is no straightforward way to compare possible outcomes of playoff games among teams that don’t play each other, but any team that lost to Chicago could be a second place team, without even being in the finals. The easiest second place contender to consider is Minnesota. Chicago dispatched the Minnesota Wild easily by outscoring their northern opponents 13 – 7 and ending the series in a four game sweep. (Chicago ended Minnesota’s Stanley Cup hopes the last two playoffs as well.) Certainly there are more qualified silver level teams out there.

In the first round of the playoffs, Nashville took Chicago to six games before admitting defeat. The series was long and close. And it was long. Game four went to about one in the morning local time after two full overtime periods failed to produce a goal (and the puck spent several minutes lost in Pekka Rinne’s pads around midnight). Even though the series only went to six games, it took longer than seven regulation games to conclude with one double overtime result, and another that ended in triple overtime. Both OT matches went Chicago’s way, but it isn’t hard to imagine that either of those games could have easily gone the other way. Over the entire series, Nashville actually outscored Chicago 21 – 19.

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Again, against Anaheim, Chicago’s series was close and long. Anaheim also outscored Chicago, this time 20 – 19, spread over a seven game series, and lost. The series include a single, double, and a triple OT, of which Chicago won two and Anaheim won one. Finally, Tampa Bay’s series with Chicago ended in just six games, without any of that heart wrenching OT, and Chicago actually outscored an opponent (other than the Minnesota series), 13 – 10 this time.

Perhaps if Nashville or Anaheim been in a different conference than Chicago, things could have ended differently for these teams. Maybe they would have been swept in the first round, or maybe the Stanley Cup finals have multiple games running into multiple overtimes.

Second is the Worst

Second place is an oft derided position to be in (the derision apparently has some science behind it confirming Jerry Seinfeld’s feelings on the subject). But for fans of a team, it is everything. It is promise for next year as we sit on the couch, at a restaurant, or in the stands. That next year our team might be a bit luckier, get a few more bounces, a few more calls going our way, and we’ll get to see our team hoist the cup.