Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Four Games in a Row Problem

Solid 60 minutes of hockey played by the Sharks tonight. They drove the net well, cleared the defensive zone better and played a bit tougher than they had in the first three games of the series. All of this resulted in... a Sharks victory, 2-1 over Dallas.

Good things from San Jose to be sure, but the problem the Sharks now face is one that has confronted every team in sports history to begin a 7 game series with defeats in the first 3.

What happens is that in the playoffs, the margin of error becomes small as you for the most part have good teams playing good teams. Through the course of a series, bounces will go one team's way one time (or even two times) and then the other team's way. This continues on until the better team creates for themselves more chances for good fortune... and as a result, enough come through to result in a win. The other scenario is for the series to go to the very end and whoever is luckiest last, wins. The important thing to note, though, is when you have two good teams playing up to their potential against each other, it's EXTREMELY unlikely for one team to "get the breaks" four games in a row. In fact, not only is it unlikely to happen four games in a row, but it's also unlikely to happen three games in a row... which is why teams down 3 games to 1 may take two to force a game 7 and yet still lose (discounting the whole "mometum is everything" theory).

This takes us squarely back to the series at hand... Dallas vs San Jose. Some people might not have thought so at the start of the playoffs, but the Stars are a good team. Fast skating, stingy D and (surprisingly) good goaltending. A good team such as this matched up against a good team such as the Sharks (regular season success being the determinate for this) should result in a back and forth series (with the aforementioned back and forth being determined in part by good breaks and in part by good play) likely tied 2-2 after four games.

Instead, what you have is a 3-1 series after four games that is only still going due to a solid game 4 effort (which led to fortunate breaks) from San Jose. They can, and hopefully will, show up for game 5 with similar zest and determination... the difficulty will be in having that result in wins three more games in a row. Unless San Jose plays 180 minutes of hockey like they did the final 30 seconds of game 4 against Calgary (tough to do) or Dallas plays significantly worse than they have to-date (tough to see occurring), the Stars seem likely to get the breaks needed to take one out of the final three games.

Given this theory about how hard it is to win 3 or 4 games in a row, it begs the question of how Dallas took the first three games. Following the logic, one would think that the two good teams would have traded shots, fortunate calls and good bounces to a 2-2 series tie at this point.

However, this logic assumes the Sharks actually playing well enough to put themselves in a position to win each game. In game one, San Jose didn't play with a sense of urgency... and lost. Game two say a great sense of urgency from the Sharks, all the way up until the tying goal was scored against them at the start of the third... and then the wheels came off. Game three... well, same song as game two... with the first verse being the game-tying 3rd period goal and the second verse being the wheels going bye-bye.

The point of all this is that had the Sharks played well (not incredible, just well) in the first three games, they likely wouldn't have completed a series sweep tonight (again, good Dallas team), but they would have put themselves in the position to get the requisite "good bounces" to be at least tied in the series going back to San Jose for game 5.

This is what makes silly the idea of bemoaning some of the early whistles or unfortunate rolls of the puck hurting the Sharks this series. They haven't played well enough to deserve their share of the good things... and Dallas thus far has.

All this being said, their 2008 Stanley Cup Playoff lives really are "day to day" right now and here's to hoping the Sharks can live another day out of game 5 Friday night in San Jose.

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