How do teams with higher point totals fare in the playoffs?

Once the Philadelphia Flyers plays their games in hand against the Canucks, Vancouver will be 4-8 points up in the President's Trophy race with ten games to go, a not insurmountable, but a margin that's likely to give the Canucks the top seed in the league headed into the playoffs.

Uh oh, we've heard this story before. Teams that win in the regular season can't win in the playoffs. It takes a special blend of team to win in the playoffs, right?

Well, that's a simplistic way of thinking and isn't exactly true. A lot of analysts will lazily pass off a team that gets unlucky in a first round playoff series as lacking grit or the mental toughness required to play in the NHL playoffs. They'll question the team's style of play, determine it's too recklessly offensive and take shots at the General Manager's personnel decisions, all because the team regressed from shooting 9.2% in the regular season to shooting just 4.3%.

While a seven-game series is far better than a one-game playoff and stamps out some of the luck, it's still a very low sample of games to decide who is unequivocally the best. The best team is the one who did the best in an 82-game season, but the playoffs are great because they add an element of luck or randomness to the draw, and the entertainment value is upped when teams like Montreal defy logic and make a run to the Conference Finals.

In the 75 playoff series' that have taken place since the lockout, the team with the higher seed is 44-31 in them. Since every now and then a team with a lower seed has a higher point total, the team with the higher point total is actually 45-30 since the lockout in a playoff series. This is a pretty decisively high number. The average number of points for the winning team in the average series is 103.9, while the average number of points for the losing team is 101.1. No team with fewer than 99 points has gone on to win the Cup (Pittsburgh in 2009), and just 8 of the 24 teams who have come into the dance with 96-or-fewer points have made it past the first round.

What does this all mean? That better teams usually win in the playoffs.There are exceptions. Since the lockout, three of the five President's Trophy winners have lost in the first round: Detroit in 2006, San Jose in 2009 and Washington in 2010. Not only did these teams win the President's Trophy, but at 117, 121 and 124 points they represent the highest point totals in a season since the lockout.

Washington's PDO (save percentage + shot percentage, an indicator of luck that will regress to 100%, usually kept at even strength but for purposes of simplicity I used overall data) fell from 102.7% in the regular season to 97.7% in the playoffs last year. Detroit's in '06 went from 101.6% to 95.5%, while San Jose in '09 had the most significant dip, going from 100.4% to 93.3%.

No team is protected against the percentages suddenly running in the opposite direction over the course of seven games when you were the better team over 82.

By the way, Vancouver's PDO this season? 102.7%, identical to Washington's last season. With a replacement-level backup, and not Cory Schneider, Vancouver's PDO would be 102%. That's not a number that isn't immune to regression, but in Pittsburgh's cup year, they went the full season at 101.7%.

In short, the playoffs can be tough to predict since a lot of crazy things can happen over the course of 4-to-7 games, but, in general, better teams do end up winning more playoff series' than lesser teams. Keep an eye on percentages before you suggest a team can't win in the playoffs, since, sometimes, pucks just don't go in at the same rate.
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