Every year that a team sweeps another in the playoffs, there is a debate about how much rest is too much. Does waiting so many extra days between matchups hurt a team’s chemistry or does giving a team extra time to lick their wounds benefiting them more?
The NHL has had 16 playoff teams each season since 1979-80, but only since the 1986-87 playoffs has each series been a best-of-seven affair. It seems like that would be best year to begin evaluating how well teams do in a series following a sweep of another team. Obviously sweeps in the Stanley Cup Final can’t be taken into account for this, so we’ll only be looking at the first three rounds of the playoffs.
First Round Sweeps: A Guarantee of Nothing
This season, the Anaheim Ducks are the only team to sweep their opening round series. Their second round opponent, the Calgary Flames, may actually be thankful for this, as teams sweeping their first round best-of-seven series’ have a losing record in the second round of playoffs. Recent history has been especially unkind to sweeping teams. Since the 2005 lockout, only three of nine teams who have swept an opponent, in the first round, have gone on to win their next series. That 33% number has to give the Calgary faithful some hope this next round.
The first round sweep has not guaranteed much success in the way of winning the Stanley Cup either. Only four teams, out of twenty-seven who have swept a team in the first round, since 1987, have gone on to win the Cup.
Second Round Sweeps: A Recipe For Success
If history is any indication, the Ducks will most likely not sweep the Flames in the second round, as no team since 1987 has swept both the first and second rounds. The last team to sweep back-to-back rounds were the Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992 when they swept the Conference Final and Stanley Cup Final.
Of all the playoff rounds to sweep a series the second seems to be the most beneficial to a long playoff run. Of the nineteen sweeps in the second round, twelve teams went on to win the next round, and ten of the winners went on to become Champion. The second round is the only playoff round where sweeping teams have a winning record in their next playoff series.
Third Round Sweeps: Not Encouraging
The conference finals had only six sweeps and two of those came in 1992, giving us a limited sample size to examine. However, it’s interesting to note that sweeping in this round gave us the same percentage of teams going on to win the next series as first round sweepers did.
Total Sweeps: Basically a Toss-up
So does all this really mean anything? If you were to ask Bruce Boudreau or Ryan Getzlaf, they would probably tell you that they’re happy to have swept the Jets and thankful to be resting for the next round. However, when you look at the historical numbers for teams that have swept any early round, the odds are basically even that that rest will result in them winning their next series. Since 1987, there have been 53 playoff series sweeps in the first three rounds, and the sweeping team went on to win the next round 27 times. While the number is slightly worse for teams since 2005, if the Ducks win this next series the post-lockout era will be at 50% with sweepers winning nine times out of eighteen opportunities.
If the Ducks do manage to sweep this, or another series, they will become the first team to ever sweep two series in one playoff year twice. The only teams to ever sweep two series in one playoff year were the Edmonton Oilers (1988), Detroit Red Wings (1997), Pittsburgh Penguins (1992), Chicago Blackhawks (1992), and Anaheim Mighty Ducks (2003). The Blackhawks and Ducks are also the only two teams to ever sweep two series in one playoff year and not win the Stanley Cup.