Wednesday night, for the 16th time in NHL history, a well-rested playoff team that has just swept a four-game series will face a team fresh off a grueling seven-game battle.
In this case it’s the third-seeded Winnipeg Jets in the North Division, who have had seven days off since dusting off the second-seeded Edmonton Oilers, taking on the fourth-seeded Montreal Canadiens, who completed a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to KO the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday.
The game will be in Winnipeg at 7:30 EDT.
The first time in NHL annals there was such a matchup was in 1952, when Detroit was coming off eight days of rest after sweeping defending league champion Toronto in the league semifinals. The Red Wings then played the Canadiens, who needed seven games to vanquish Boston. Montreal had one day to recover.
In that opening Cup final at Montreal, Gordie Howe and the Wings won 3-1 en route to taking the series 4-0. There was joy in Michigan.
But in those 15 aforementioned Game 1 meetings in this scenario, the well-rested team has had an overall record of only 8-7.
The most recent such game occurred three days ago when the Colorado Avalanche, off six-days’ rest after a sweep of St. Louis, whipped Vegas 7-1 in Denver. Just two days earlier the Golden Knights had ousted visiting Minnesota in Game 7 of their opening-round series.
Two years earlier there were two such games just a day apart in the second round, and in both cases the rested team was defeated.
First, Columbus off eight-days’ rest, lost in overtime at Boston 3-2, with the Bruins having one day off. A day later, the New York Islanders, coming off nine days’ rest, were 1- 0 overtime losers at home to Carolina. The Hurricanes had one day off, also. Both victors went on to win the series.
Breaking Down The Data
- When rested teams, whose days off ranged from six to 10 days, played at home in Game 1, they went 7-3; on the road 1-4. Home teams overall have gone 11-4.
- When the “exhausted” teams had only one day off, they’ve gone 5-6.
- When the exhausted team played Game 7 of the previous round on the road and then played Game 1 on the road again two days later, like Montreal will now do, they were 2-5 and outscored 23-9.
Full Sportsbook Odds For Winnipeg Vs. Montreal
And The Game 1 Pick Is …
…Manitoba’s favorite team, the Jets.
It’s hard to ignore the 11-4 home-team mark in this spot and the 2-5 ledger regarding those back-to-back road games with only a day’s rest.
On top of that, the Jets were 6-3 this season against the Canadiens, including 3-1 at home.
Sure, Montreal goalie Carey Price is a veteran titan in the nets, but so is Winnipeg’s Connor Hellebuyck, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner. And he’ll be operating for a team that is relatively free of injury.
Also, the Canadiens have had a minus-9 scoring differential the past two regular seasons. Those are the two worst margins for any playoff team the past five years, even with last year’s preposterously expanded postseason. That’s not impressive. And neither is the fact they were outscored in the first round 18-14.
One more thing: How quickly will the Canadiens be able to replenish their adrenaline reserves after their emotional comeback against an archrival that included overtime victories in Games 5 and 6 when it was win or pack your gear.
Thus, the pick for Game 1 is Winnipeg, which will be allowing a limited number of fans to attend for the first time in more than a year. That’s another intangible in their favor.
In Closing, A Fun Fact
As mentioned, Winnipeg is coming off a seven-day break. But that’s nothing compared with the time off the old Winnipeg Jets of the World Hockey Association enjoyed during the 1976 postseason when they had 17 idle days between the league’s semifinals and finals.
Somewhat unbelievably, those Jets, who two decades later moved to Arizona and became the Coyotes, finished their semifinal round victory against the Calgary Cowboys before their eventual finals foe, Gordie Howe and the Houston Aeros, had even started their semifinal. And that went seven games.
The uber-rested Jets, featuring Bobby Hull, wound up sweeping Houston, winning the final game 9-1.