The Vancouver Canucks may be hoping the traffic delays the San Jose Sharks are warning fans about for Sunday’s Stanley Cup playoffs match-up is not the only consequence of hosting a game on Cinco de Mayo. They are in desperate need of their first win over their Western Conference rivals in five tries during 2013.
Without it, this series is over. Only three teams in NHL history (and just one more in major North American professional sports) have ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
Who Wins is a website that tracks the history of all series. According to their numbers, there are more than six teams that fail to come back from a 2-0 Stanley Cup playoffs deficit for every one that succeeds. Even earning a split in San Jose would put Vancouver in a position only 21 other teams have come back from. Those 24 teams overall to come back from 3-1 are dwarfed by the 238 that failed.
The Canucks do not look like a team able to overcome those odds. They could not even finish off a game they dominated, and their recent history shows a rapid decline shortly after beating the Sharks in the 2011 Western Conference finals.
They went up two games to none on the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup finals, then were basically blown out in four of the last five. They were less dominant in 2011-12, but still had their way in the regular season, taking three of four from San Jose and winning the President’s Trophy. But they could manage just one playoff victory, barely won the weakest division in the Western Conference this season and could not win either game at home in this year’s postseason.
A win Sunday will make that hill significantly easier to climb. They would suddenly be down just one game with a chance to come home even. Their odds get better as the 172 teams that fell down 3-0 are eliminated from the equation—40 of 150 (26.7 percent) teams in NHL history to be down 2-0 but win the next game came back to take the series.
If Vancouver gets this win, the pressure shifts to San Jose to protect home ice. The best thing to do is make sure that never comes into play. Knowing from previous previews of this series that puck possession and management, goalie play, penalties and special teams are constant keys, the list shows three other things that can make a 3-0 series a reality.
Home crowd vs. fight for survival
The San Jose Sharks need to feed off the home crowd that led them to an NHL-high 39 points this season. The desperation of the Vancouver Canucks will fuel them to throw everything at their rivals early in the game.
The team that gets more motivation and sustains it for a longer time will likely start this game off with the all-important lead.
Now that they are at home, Todd McLellan can choose the line and pair match-ups he wants for the San Jose Sharks. This should help him to defend the lines of Ryan Kesler and Daniel and Henrik Sedin.
More importantly, he will be able to get any line he wants in position to score without the Vancouver Canucks being able to put the personnel they want out to defend. If the match-up results in even one extra goal, that will be huge against a team that has just eight goals in five games against Antti Niemi during 2013.
The Vancouver Canucks have held a 40-26 and 45-27 edge in hits over the two games. A little of that could be home scorekeeper bias in the most subjective statistic in the NHL, but the additional wood being laid is at least corroborated by other indicators.
The San Jose Sharks did lose skilled forward Martin Havlat to injury after he took what looked like a cheap shot in the first period of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Taking more hits have naturally resulted in more power plays, but they have the same number of goals as their less-accomplished rivals on special teams.
Laying a little wood of their own could make the Canucks think twice about taking more liberties and could break the will of an opponent losing hope.