- The Colorado Avalanche defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime to take Game 1 of their best of seven Stanley Cup Finals series.
- Teams that win Game 1 of a best of seven playoff format go on to win the series a majority of the time.
- The Avalanche won Game 2 in decisive fashion via a 7-0 rout.
Last week, we used the Colorado Avalanche’s Game 1 Stanley Cup Finals win over the Tampa Bay Lightning as a jumping off point for a discussion on the importance of winning the first game of a best of seven playoff format series. The raw numbers are crystal clear: teams that win Game 1 of a best of seven format go on to win the series the majority of the time. As always for this type of analysis we’ll head to the excellent WhoWins.com website for all of the historical data.
We’ll go from the ‘general’ to the ‘specific’ and start with the overall record of Game 1 winners in all sports, all series and at all venues. Note that throughout this article I’m not including the 2022 NBA or NHL playoffs. Overall, teams that win Game 1 of a best of seven playoff format they go on to win the series 70.8% of the time with a record of 1050-434. Teams that play and win Game 1 at home go on to win the series 78.4% of the time with a record of 768-211! While we’re at it, visiting teams that win Game 1 go on to win the series 55.8% of the time with a record of 282-223.
We’ve looked at the overall performance of Game 1 winners as well as broken down by home and away role. Now we’ll break these numbers down by individual sport. As noted previously, the information we’re using does not include the 2022 NHL and NBA playoffs.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL
In Major League Baseball, winning Game 1 of a best of seven format also portents well for winning the entire series. MLB teams that win the first game go on to win a series 64.3% of the time (119-66). Teams that play the first game at home enjoy a slightly better record–68.2% (73-34). Teams that open on the road and win Game 1 are right at 59% series winners (46-32).
Since baseball has never had as many playoff rounds as hockey and basketball, we’ll only look at two sets of records for MLB teams. At the League Championship round, teams that win Game 1 go on to win the series 63.9% of the time (46-26). Teams that take Game 1 of this round at home are close to a 70% winner, claiming 69.2% of the League Champion Series (27-12) while road teams at this stage are 19-14 for a 57.6% winning clip. Obviously, these are small sample sets but the results are still in the neighborhood of the other Game 1 series metrics we’ve examined.
Moving on to the World Series, the series performance of teams that win Game 1 is very similar to the previous round. Game 1 winners have a World Series record of 76-40 or 64.6%. Home teams that win Game 1 go on to win the World Series 67.6% of the time (46-22) while road teams in this situation do so 60% of the time (27-18). As noted above, the World Series format in baseball is slightly more truncated than the playoff series in other professional sports that employ the Best of 7 format.
NATIONAL BASKETBALL ASSOCIATION (NBA)
It’s well known that home court is especially valuable in the NBA and the series performance of Game 1 winners validates this clearly. Overall, NBA teams that win Game 1 go on to win their series 75.6% of the time (433-140). You won’t be surprised to find out that the disparity between home and road performance is huge–home teams that win Game 1 go on to win the series 84.8% of the time (352-63) while road teams are barely able to exceed a 50% winning clip with a 81-77 record (51.3%).
The NBA has modified the playoff format over the years, but on balance they’ve always had more rounds than Major League Baseball and until the past few decades the National Hockey League. Let’s start with preliminary rounds–note that both the NBA and NHL have tried different formats for preliminary series including at various points 3, 5 and 7 game series. Teams that win Game 1 of a preliminary round best of 7 format are 75% series winners (114-38) with home teams doing so 88.9% of the time. Road teams, on the other hand, haven’t fared as well. Teams that win Game 1 on the road in preliminary rounds only go on to win the series 40.9% of the time (18-26).
The dynamic changes completely in the playoff semifinals. Overall, teams that win Game 1 of this stage go on to win the series 78.5% of the time (102-28). Teams that win Game 1 at home have a 74-16 record for a winning percentage of 82.2%. Teams that win Game 1 on the road also have an exemplary record of 28-12 for a 70% winning percentage. These aren’t big sample sizes, so you can’t draw too big of a generalization about these records.
The NBA Finals also produce some interesting numbers. The overall performance of Game 1 winners in the NBA Finals shows that they go on to win the series 70.7% of the time. Home teams that win Game 1 go on to win the NBA Championship 83.1% of the time (49-10). Visiting teams that win the first game of the finals don’t fare quite as well–they’re just 47.1% winners, albeit with a record of 8-9 meaning we’re talking about a very small sample size.
NATIONAL HOCKEY LEAGUE
In the National Hockey League, teams that win Game 1 of a best of seven format go on to win the series 68.6% of the time. Home teams that win Game 1 are 75.1% winners (343-114) and road teams win the series 57.6% of the time (155-114). In preliminary rounds, the percentages aren’t much different than the overall records–Game 1 winners at all venues have a 66.5% series record in preliminary rounds (181-91), with teams that win Game 1 at home at 74.1% (117-41). Road teams are 56.1% series winners in preliminary rounds.
At the quarterfinal stage, Game 1 winners are 69.3% series winners (147-65) with home teams winning 74.5% of the time (102-35) and road teams 60% of the time (45-30). At the semifinal (Conference Championship) round, teams that win Game 1 have a 67.5% series winning percentage (108-52) with home teams at 72.8% (75-28) and visitors at 57.9% (33-24). In the Stanley Cup Finals, teams that win Game 1 have a 75.6% series winning percentage. At this stage, the series winning percentage of Game 1 winners at home shoots up to 83.1% (49-10) while visitors that win Game 1 go on to win the series 56.5% of the time–once again, that’s a short sample size from a 13-10 record.