When the final bracket for the Western Conference Semifinals came out, the battle between the 2nd-seeded San Jose Sharks and the 3rd-seeded Detroit Red Wings looked to be a pick 'em. After the Sharks went up 3-0 in the series, things were deceptively lopsided -- all games were tightly contested one-goal victories, two of them in overtime.
Even on Red Wing blogs and message boards, there was some grousing about coach Mike Babcock's decision-making. As I'd remarked last week, even if the Wings lost in four or five games, they wouldn't have necessarily had too much to change following the autopsy. Someone has to win, someone has to lose, despite the seedings or quality of roster.
Entering tonight's Game 6, the pendulum has swung firmly in Detroit's favor -- or has it? Hockey is a game of inches, and when two equally strong teams collide, a bounce here and a bounce there creates the slim difference between victory and defeat.
However, when you take a look at the bigger picture, the numbers show that this is closer than you might have thought. Let's examine:
Goals for (by game)
San Jose: 2, 2, 4, 3, 3 = 14
Detroit: 1, 1, 3, 4, 4 = 13
San Jose: 0, 0, 1, 0, 1 (2 goals)
Detroit: 1, 0, 2, 1 (3 goals), 0
Blown leads by 2 or more goals:
San Jose: 1 -- Game 5 (2 goals at 3-1 to 3-4)
Detroit: 1 -- Game 4 (3 goals from 3-0 to 3-3 before eventually winning 4-3)
Power play percentage
San Jose: 1/6, 1/4, 2/4, 0/2, 0/4 = 4/20
Detroit: 0/2, 1/6, 2/4, 1/4, 0/2 = 4/18
San Jose: 25, 38, 35, 31, 30 = 159 (51.3%)
Detroit: 25, 33, 31, 33, 29 = 151 (48.7%)
Hits (Note: I know the hits statistic is subjective based on the person that's tracking it, but it still provides some measure of what's going on)
San Jose: 26, 19, 20, 17, 21 = 103
Detroit: 28, 31, 36, 29, 25 = 149
San Jose: 26, 37, 41, 28, 42 = 174
Detroit: 28, 34, 38, 40, 22 = 162
San Jose: 13 GAA on 162 SA = 91.9% SP
Detroit: 14 GAA on 174 SA = 91.9% SP
Blocked shots (Note: Another subjective stat based on the in-house statistician)
San Jose: 26, 23, 24, 12, 17 = 102
Detroit: 26, 23, 24, 12, 17 = 102
Road games won
San Jose: 1, Game 3
Detroit 1, Game 5
Statistically, San Jose has an edge in shots and faceoffs while Detroit is doing more hitting (perhaps a byproduct of Todd McLellan essentially rolling three lines instead of his usual checking group). Everything else is freakishly similar, including an exact match in blocked shots and save percentage.
So let's use the Sands Of Time and go backwards.
Pretend San Jose kept their 3-2 lead in the third period of Game 5 and won the series in five games. History would have recorded it as a lopsided series win but a closer look at the stats would have showed that they were just barely ahead of a very closely contested series. As it stands, the only real difference right now is that San Jose failed to recover from their big blown lead while Detroit won Game 4 after giving up a three-goal lead.
If you took random look-ins from any of the five games so far, you would have probably seen a combination of blocked shots, scoring chances, and back-and-forth flow with no whistles. All bias aside (and yes, I'm a Sharks season ticket holder), the level of hockey in this series has been fantastic. With my emotional investment, of course I want the Sharks to win as quickly and as easily as possible. For fans with no rooting interest, though, they've been treated to a powerhouse battle between two extremely skilled teams.
This isn't a series of blowouts going back and forth. It's two extremely deep division champions that play a similar style splitting a number of one-goal games. If you don't care who wins, just sit back and enjoy hockey at its highest level. If you do care (as I do), chances are we're set for another 3+ hours of nail-biting tension on Tuesday night.
(As an addendum to this, Derek Zona at The Copper & Blue has tracked scoring chances for the series. I didn't include them here because Game 3 is missing. Still, if number crunching is your thing, I suggest you head over there and check out the archive.)