Does History Offer Golden Knights Hope?

For the first time in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Vegas Golden Knights are in an unfamiliar spot. Progressing through the first three rounds, the Knights controlled each series and dominated, advancing to the Stanley Cup Final after only playing 15 games.

As they head into Game 5, against the Washington Capitals, they are down three games to one and on the brink of elimination. The Caps have won the last two games in D.C., dictating play with physicality and taking advantage of Vegas turnovers, odd man rushes and broken coverage.

Alex Ovechkin Cody Eakin
Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) chases the puck with Vegas Golden Knights center Cody Eakin (21) in the third period in game two of the 2018 Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena. (Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

Are the Golden Knights done? Has the opportunity for a team in their inaugural season to win the Stanley Cup slipped away? For hopeful Knights fans, history may provide a glimmer of hope. Let’s take a closer look.

History of Erasing a 3-1 Series Deficit

In major North American professional sports, 52 times has a team erased a 3-1 series deficit in the postseason. In the National Hockey League, a team has come back from down three games to one 28 times, the most out of any North American professional sports league. Of those 28 occurrences, four were complete comebacks, where a team was down three games to none.

For the Vegas Golden Knights, playing in their boisterous building for Game 5, gives them a solid chance to send this series go back to Washington. Teams who are down 3-1, playing Game 5 at home, win that game approximately 59% of the time.

Winning Game 5 is one thing…the whole series is still a huge obstacle. Teams trailing 3-1, but having home ice advantage, still only win the series about 12% of the time, demonstrating the uphill battle Vegas has to climb.

Coming Back From a 3-1 Hole in the Final

In the final championship round, there have been eight instances across North American sports where a team has won the title down three games to one. It is more prevalent in Major League Baseball, where it has happened six times in the World Series.

In the Stanley Cup Final, there have been 33 instances where a team is up three games to one. In 32 of those 33 times (97%), the team that has the commanding series lead has gone on to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup.

The only time a team has come back, after going down 3-1, was in the 1942 Stanley Cup Final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings. The Leafs were in a 0-3 hole against the Wings, demoralized and appeared to be facing imminent defeat.

The Leafs would complete the impossible task, winning Games 4, 5, 6 and 7 against the Wings, completing one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.

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Washington Capitals and 3-1 Series Leads

The Golden Knights are facing a team with a lot of experienced players, but the Knights are hoping to ride a reality the Caps do not want to face.

In the history of the NHL, the Capitals have blown five 3-1 series leads, the most of any team. Two of those series were in the Alex Ovechkin era — once in the first round in the 2010 Playoffs against the eighth seeded Montreal Canadiens, and the other in 2015 against the New York Rangers.

In 1992, the Caps were up 3-1 against their arch nemesis Pittsburgh Penguins. But, through the brilliance of superstar players like Mario Lemieux and Jaromir Jagr, the Penguins were able to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat, defeating the Capitals in seven games en route to their second consecutive Stanley Cup win.

“We’re trying to write our own story here,” Caps forward T.J. Oshie stated. “It seems like the rest of the city is on board with that. We’re going to go about our business. We haven’t dwelled much on the past.”

The Caps players have defeated every playoff demon they have faced thus far. But, for the Golden Knights, they will need to rely on history to repeat itself, given the Capitals 3-1 series woes.

Home Ice Not Necessarily a Huge Advantage

In a larger than life atmosphere at the T-Mobile Arena, which has celebrities performing and a ‘Game of Thrones-like’ pregame ceremony, it’s no surprise that Vegas has the best home record in hockey (29-10-2). In this postseason, the Golden Knights have only lost twice at home, including Game 2 of this Stanley Cup Final.

For the Knights to win this series, they will have to win one game on the road, something they have not been able to do this series. Unlike other sports, where being at home produces a greater advantage, in hockey, it does not provide a huge help.

Alex Tuch, #89 of the Vegas Golden Knights
GLENDALE, NV – APRIL 26: Alex Tuch #89 of the Vegas Golden Knights celebrates with teammates on the bench after scoring a power play goal against the San Jose Sharks in Game One of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at T-Mobile Arena on April 26, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

In the regular season, home teams win approximately 55% of the time. In the playoffs, there is a small decrease in home ice advantage.

The Washington Capitals were 4-5 at home before they won two games in a row this series. While they proved to be dominant against Vegas, the fact the Caps have lost five games at home already this postseason proves that forcing a Game 7 can be done.

“We’re going to play in our building. The pressure’s off us. We’re going to work hard and have some fun. We’ll see what happens,” says Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant.

The Golden Knights chances of coming back in this series are slim — 31 consecutive times in the Final, the team down 3-1 has not come back to win the series. But, with the Capitals facing playoff demons of their own and the recent history of NHL teams coming back from three games to one down, don’t put it past this historic Golden Knights team to pull off a miracle.