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The Dire Realities Of Being In An 0-3 Hole

James Murphy
by in NHL on
  • The Edmonton Oilers are down 0-3 in their Western Conference Final series with the Colorado Avalanche.
  • In all North American sports with a 7 game playoff format, the team with the 3-0 lead has gone on to win the series 98.7% of the time.
  • There have only been five teams to come back from the 0-3 deficit to win the series with four in the NHL.

Before the NHL Western Conference Finals series between the Edmonton Oilers and Colorado Avalanche began, it looked to have the potential of an all time classic. It hasn’t worked out that way. After a wild Game 1 that ended in an 8-6 Colorado win the Avs have taken over. They’ve done a good job in shutting down Edmonton’s offense winning Game 2 in a 4-0 shutout and Game 3 4-2. They can punch their ticket to the Stanley Cup Finals with a victory in Edmonton on Monday night.

This is a good opportunity to review the extremely difficult circumstances that a team faces down 0-3 in a 7 game playoff series using data from the excellent website WhoWins. It’s not *impossible* to come back to win the series, but close. In all North American professional sports that use a 7 game playoff format, the team winning 3-0–in this case, Colorado–goes on to win the series 98.7% of the time. All time, MLB, NHL and NBA teams are a combined 376-5 to win the series when up 3-0. That number is slightly higher at the conference final level–teams that are in the penultimate series in their playoffs leading 3-0 are 65-1 all time for a winning percentage of 98.9%.

If there’s any solace to the Oilers it might be this: of the five teams in the MLB, NHL and NBA that have come back from an 0-3 hole to win the series four were pro hockey teams. The other was a Major League Baseball team, more specifically the 2004 Boston Red Sox. That year, the Red Sox went down 0-3 to the hated New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series only to win four straight and take the series. They kept on winning from that point, sweeping the St. Louis Cardinals to win the World Series and end the 86 year old ‘Curse of the Bambino’. That leaves the NBA as the only North American sport that uses the requisite playoff format to never have a team come back and win down 0-3. That makes it a record of 143-0 for the team leading 3-0 to eventually win the series. Teams leading 3-0 are 31-0 in the NBA Conference finals and 22-0 in the Finals.

As for the NHL, here’s some bad news for Edmonton (other than the fact they’re down 0-3): a team has never come back from an 0-3 deficit at the Conference Finals (aka semifinals) stage. It’s happened once in preliminary rounds (2014 Los Angeles Kings over San Jose Sharks), twice at the quarterfinals stage (2010 Philadelphia Flyers over Boston Bruins, New York Islanders over Pittsburgh Penguins in 1975) and once in the Stanley Cup FInals (1942 Toronto Maple Leafs over Detroit Red Wings).

The NHL’s official website gives us a bit more context: 198 teams have fallen behind 3-0 in a seven game series and nine of those teams managed to force a Game 7 (4.5%). The next question: how many teams down 0-3 win Game 4 and ‘live to fight another day’. We’ll look at that in the next article.

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