Can anyone slow down the Boston Bruins right now?
With a group comprised of key veterans from the 2011 Stanley Cup championship squad and new blood that has risen through the ranks, the Bruins have looked like the Stanley Cup favorites since the demise of the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Bruins outclassed the Carolina Hurricanes at every position in the Eastern Conference final, completing the sweep with a masterful effort in Game 4. This marks Boston's third Stanley Cup final appearance in the past decade, and with neither the San Jose Sharks or St. Louis Blues pulling ahead by a considerable margin in the Western Conference final, the Bruins could have an extended break before they hit the ice again.
But is having time off after the conference final really a boon to a team's Stanley Cup hopes? While some will extoll the virtues rest and recovery time, historically speaking, teams that swept the series prior to the final haven't typically had a leg up.
Sweeps, in general, are rare. Since 2010, only 19 of the 149 playoff rounds have resulted in a sweep, or 12.8 percent of all series, and over the past 50 years, there are only 19 instances of a series sweep occurring in the conference final (formerly known as the league semifinal) with the sweeping team possessing a 10-9 record in the Stanley Cup final.
From 1969-1979, teams that swept the penultimate round had a 3-3 record in the final, including a 1972 meeting between Boston and the New York Rangers, who both swept their way to the last round. The Bruins won that series, and the Stanley Cup, by a 4-2 series score. During the 1980s, the New York Islanders and Edmonton Oilers swept their respective semifinal series four combined times, with the Islanders winning the Stanley Cup both times following a sweep and the Oilers winning once and losing once. And since the NHL went to a best-of-seven format for the entire playoffs in 1987, seven conference final sweeps have occurred, and those series victors went on to post a 3-4 record in the final.
Of all teams to execute a semifinal series sweep in the past 50 years, the Bruins have done so the most. This season marks the sixth time they've won in four-straight in the second-to-last round. The results in the final following a series sweep have been a mixed bag, though. In 1970, Boston swept the final two rounds to win the Cup, followed by the aforementioned 1972 victory. In 1977, the Bruins swept the Flyers before being swept by the Montreal Canadiens. Boston again swept their way to the final in 1990, only to fall short against the Oilers, and the Bruins' sweep of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference final preceded a six-game Stanley Cup defeat at the hands of the Chicago Blackhawks. That gives Boston a 2-3 record after a semifinal sweep.
So, is there any real benefit to having the time off? It's almost even at this point. But history doesn't decide hockey games, either.
Boston leads nearly every major category among teams that made it to the final four. The Bruins have the most goals (57, and their 3.35 goals per game ranks first), the fewest goals against (33, and their 1.94 goals against per game leads the way) and the best power play (34 percent) and penalty kill (86.3 percent). Scoring winger Brad Marchand and goaltender Tuukka Rask have been among the best playoff performers, too, and Boston's depth has been incredible. Thirteen members of the Bruins roster have at least five points in the playoffs. Only the Blues have more with 14. Can you argue against the Bruins being the top team right now?
This is to say take the historical numbers as you will, because if past results have taught us anything, it's that neither sweeping the semifinal round or clawing to make it through provides a clear-cut advantage when it comes to winning the Stanley Cup.
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