Game Two and Notes

— My (web site) partner John began his game one recap by saying the Blackhawks ‘ playoff performances routinely bent our understanding of momentum in sports. Well, allow me to bend two others linked to the Hawks’ ’08-’09 playoff run: experience and frequency of a team’s play.

First, yes, the Hawks may be partaking in a scientific experiment that attempts to disprove momentum in sports. Twice in the team’s seven playoff games, the Hawks have come back from three-goal defecits in one period, only to lose the game in the end. Doesn’t sound like momentum to me.

But, journalists and analysts alike have made big deals about two other oft-heard, questionable phenomena during the present playoff run. For example, The Hockey News’ playoff preview predicted the Calgary Flames would best the Hawks in seven games in the first round. Why? Experience – and, better yet, the Hawks’ need to learn how to lose.

They say every good, young team has to learn how to lose before it can win. Is this Chicago’s rite of passage?

So, with the Hawks first round victory, I guess experience is out the window, too. And, it took with it a team’s need to “learn how to lose before it can win” – but that one was too easy.

Next, in association with game one of the Western Conference semi-finals, many analysts discussed the Canucks’ lengthy layoff between sweeping Barry Rozner’s St. Louis Blues and playing game one on Thursday night in Vancouver. Consider the following from www.covers.com, a gambling web site:

Looking at historical data since the lockout, it appears there is an argument to be made that a lack of rest can contribute to playoff success, particularly when playing against a well-rested team. The caveat, of course, is that only three years worth of data was examined.

Teams with seven days off or more are 1-5 in the first game of the next round and are 2-4 overall in those series. The only Game 1 victory by a team with seven days of rest or more came last year, when the Penguins erased a 3-0 second period deficit to defeat the Rangers.

Teams with two days off or less are 4-3 in the first game of the next round and 4-3 in those series.

The sharpest contrast is noticed when teams with long layoffs play a side that is just fresh of the prior series. Clubs with seven days of rest or more playing against teams with three days of rest or less are 0-4 and are 1-3 in their respective series. Teams with two days of rest or less are 3-1 and are 3-1 in their respective series playing against teams that have “out-rested” them by three days or more.

Still, the beauty of what I’ll call the “layoff” argument is that it can be made both ways. Fans and analysts on either side can take the team’s layoff and mold it to suit their pre-series argument. Indeed, the same web site acknowledges the dichotomy:

A team that is well rested can relax and recover from injury, but also takes a break from the intensity of the playoffs. Conversely, a team coming off a Game 7 victory has momentum and doesn’t need to refocus. The downside is that the squad has to deal with the physical effects of a seven-game series.

However, in the end, even the gambling folks don’t take these intangibles into account when setting lines:

“That kind of tangible handicapping doesn’t play into our opening prices,” says Randy Scott, sportsbook manager of betED.com. “We stick with stats, matchup history and power rankings to guide our opening prices and leave the tangibles up to the players to figure out.”

So, what do the momentum, experience and team layoff arguments have in common? First, there’s very little evidence any of them actually exist, and, as such, any and all of them may just be figments of our imagination. (In fact, each of the three teams with lengthy layoffs between first and second round series – the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks and Boston Bruins – won game one of their respective series.) And, all arguments are pliable enough to use in just about every situation depending on what occurs.

But, all arguments seem to come from folks who don’t have much else to fall back on while analyzing a game or series. Can’t explain Vancouver’s game one victory with “x’s and o’s” or game analysis? Must’ve been experience. Could’ve been momentum. Might’ve been all that rest the layoff afforded them. Or, was it the Hawks need to learn to lose before they win?

— Jonathan Toews was indeed sick for game one on Thursday. Still odd he wasn’t at least on the wing for the last couple face offs in the Vancouver zone with the Hawks scratching for the tying goal.

— Ben Eager won’t be suspended for railroading Rick Rypien on Thursday. Rypien, the Canucks’ answer to Adam Burish, deserves whatever he gets – short of permanent injury or death, of course – and wouldn’t hesitate to do the same to a Hawk this evening.

— On Thursday, I mentioned three keys to a Hawks’ first round victory: limit the Sedins; get the Toews/Kane/Sharp line going offensively; and have Khabibulin at least match Luongo. Well, despite the loss, the Sedins combined for only 2 points; Patrick Kane had two goals; and Khabibulin likely matched Luongo.

Must’ve been the momentum generated by the Canucks’ layoff and their relative experience.

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