There is no denying that beginning the playoffs 0-2 at home is a less than promising start, and the hopeful pessimism in the city is warranted at this time. However, the series is by no means over, and after looking at a few numbers and factors, the Canucks chances of a comeback may be better than expected.
It’s true that out of 291 times in which teams have trailed 2-0 in a series they have only come back to win 37 times, which gives us an daunting 12.7% comeback rate. However, this includes many scenarios that are very different from the current Vancouver-Los Angeles circumstances. Many times a higher ranked seed will win the first two games and go on to win the best-of-seven series, but this is not what we are dealing with in the Canucks series. Also, the 12.7% includes games from every round of the playoffs since 1918, whereas we are in the first round, and given the changes in the game since the beginning of the NHL, the numbers from the mid 20th century mean very little to modern day hockey. Making the odds a little more applicable to the series at hand, I looked at the chances of a higher ranked seed beating a lower ranked seed in the first round of the playoffs after losing the first two games, with numbers beginning after the division changes to the NHL in 1998 (1999 playoffs-2011).
A lower seed has won the first two games in the first round 15 times, and 5 times the higher seed has come back to win the series. This gives a comeback percentage of 33%, although still not a favorable number for the Canucks, this is more than double the initial odds of 12.7%. This still contains all seeding matchups, including ones with less disparity such as the 5-4 and 6-3 seeds. If we only look at the 1-8 series, there has been a 50% chance of comeback for a higher seed after going down 2-0. This being said, there have only been two cases since 1999 which a lower ranked seed has won the first two games, but Canucks fans might remember one of them particularly well. In 2002 Vancouver won it’s first two games in Detroit, and the Canucks, an 8th seed, ended up losing the series 4-2 (the Red Wings went on to win the Stanley Cup). Of course there are plenty of anecdotes in recent past to help us visualize a comeback, but a better indication of the Canucks chances may be in some of the statistics presented above which illustrate the outcomes of teams in similar positions over the past decade.
On a more micro-level, we can inspect games one and two and see unusual factors that edged the game in the Kings favor. Statistically the Canucks have outplayed the Kings at even-strength, outshooting and outscoring them 60-46 and 4-3 respectively (including an open net goal for the Kings). Of course the Canucks have to play better with the man advantage and on the penalty kill if they want to come back in this series. My previous article, Penalty Peak, discussed the abnormal amount of penalties in game one, and clearly two shorthanded goals in game two is something that shouldn’t happen repeatedly (the Canucks only gave up 4 shorthanded goals all regular season). We can only expect an improvement in special teams given the rock bottom levels of play lately, and since 5 out of the King’s 8 goals have been during special teams play, it is clear that an improvement for the Canucks will make a difference in the outcome of this series.
The Canucks undoubtedly face an uphill battle, but given the abnormality of special teams play in the first two games, it can be done, it has been done, and the odds might not be as bad as you think.