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Success down the stretch means nothing in the playoffs

The Washington Capitals have been on a second half tear and are 9-1-0 in the past 10 games. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

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The Washington Capitals have been on a second half tear and are 9-1-0 in the past 10 games. (Photo by John McDonnell/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

As we make our way into the last days of the season, those among us who like to make the playoffs a little more interesting will undoubtedly be entering playoff hockey pools. Of course, it will all be for bragging rights only and no money will exchange hands.

Any seasoned poolie will tell you the key to winning a post-season pool is to hedge your bets on the four teams you believe will advance to the conference finals and load up on players from those teams. It often results in spectacular flameouts, but if you pick the right teams, you’re golden.

To wit: back in 1988 Adam Oates scored 20 playoff points for the Detroit Red Wings as they advanced to the Clarence Campbell Conference final. All the Edmonton Oilers had been evenly distributed and yours truly loaded up on Red Wings, who, led by Oates won me the hockey pool.

Here’s another tip. When you’re picking the four teams you think will advance the furthest, resist the temptation to look at the “L10” column in the NHL standings. That’s because, historically, there’s almost no correlation between how a team does down the stretch and whether or not it wins the Stanley Cup.

That is, with two exceptions. Over the past 25 seasons, only twice has the team with the best record in the last 10 games of the season won the Stanley Cup – the New York Rangers in 1994 and the Calgary Flames in 1989. In fact, the team with the best record in the league in the last 10 games is more likely to lose in the first round of the playoffs than it is to win the Cup.

Over the past 20 years, the team with the best record in the final 10 games of the season has lost in the first round of the playoffs 11 times, including four times in the past five years. It has lost in the second round 10 times, in the conference final three times and in the Stanley Cup final twice. (Yes, that adds up to 26 teams, but there were several years where multiple teams were tied for the best record over the last 10 games.)

And while it’s not advisable to completely suck wind down the stretch, it certainly isn’t a requirement. Over the past 20 playoffs, the Stanley Cup winner has gained an average of only 12.2 of a possible 20 points in its final 10 games. In 2002, the Detroit Red Wings were a putrid 1-3-6 down the stretch, which was a worse record than that posted by all other playoff teams that season. When the Montreal Canadiens won it all in 1992-93, they posted just a 4-6-0 record in their last 10.

In fact, no Stanley Cup winner over the past 20 years has produced a record better than 7-2-1. Last season, the Los Angeles Kings were furious in the second half of the season, but were actually just 5-2-3 in their final 10. Seven teams that made the playoffs had better records than that, including the 8-1-1 Vancouver Canucks, who fell to the Kings in the first round.

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THOUGHTS ON THE NHL

• The major reason why I pay almost no attention to the NHL’s Central Scouting rankings is that in this day and age, they still separate their rankings among North American skaters, North American goalies, European skaters and European goalies. How does that help you figure out where players are ranked? Really, the NHL’s scouting bureau has to get with the 21st century on this one…

• Am I alone on this one? If I go through a game seeing fewer than a half-dozen blown offside calls, I figure it’s been a good one for the linesmen…

• St. Louis defenseman Jay Bouwmeester has actually played in the playoffs once during his pro career. During the 2004-05 lockout, Bouwmeester played 18 games, registering zero points and 14 penalty minutes for the Chicago Wolves. He was loaned to the Wolves by the San Antonio Rampage who, you guessed it, missed the playoffs in the American League…

• If I’m the New Jersey Devils, I’m looking very seriously at drafting Halifax Mooseheads goalie Zach Fucale with my first round pick, assuming Fucale is still on the board...

• Just wondering. Do you think that looking in retrospect, the Colorado Avalanche would rather have Ryan O’Reilly or the Calgary Flames first round pick in this year’s draft?...

• Received a tweet from a reader asking me what I thought the Detroit Red Wings could get in return for Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg if they decided to trade them. I dismissed it outright and I still don’t think the Red Wings would ever do it, but regardless of whether they make the playoffs or not, should it not be something they consider? They have more than $11 million in cap space for next season and that, combined with what they could get in return for those two players if they traded them at the draft, would set the Red Wings rebuild up quite nicely, don’t you think? Zetterberg does not have a no-trade clause and Datsyuk has a partial no-trade, so it could be done. Again, doubt the Red Wings would ever do it, but they owe it to themselves to consider it.

Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.

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