How unlikely is a 3-0 comeback in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?

Puck Daddy

On Tuesday the Columbus Blue Jackets gave a small sliver of hope to the Chicago Blackhawks, Calgary Flames and Minnesota Wild.

Columbus survived elimination by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-4 after coming into the game down 0-3 in their first-round series. The Blackhawks currently hold that deficit with the Nashville Predators as do the Flames with the Anaheim Ducks and the Wild with the St. Louis Blues.

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“Really it’s one game at a time. You have to win one to win two. You have to win two to win three. You have to win three to win that fourth,” said Hockey Hall of Famer Chris Pronger, who was part of the Philadelphia Flyers’ 0-3 2010 playoff comeback against the Boston Bruins. “Really you’re just playing in that sudden death mentality where you have to leave it all on the ice. If you really want to compete and you really want to win, how badly do you want to win and what are you willing to give to do it?”

All the teams currently down 0-3 have strung together long winning streaks of more than four games during the 2016-17 season, which means they could somehow get back in their series.

Chicago’s longest winning streak was seven games. The Flames won 10 in a row and the Wild won 12 in a row. The Blue Jackets held the NHL’s longest winning streak of the year – and second-longest in NHL history – at 16 straight games.

Still, the odds are stacked up against them.

Four times in NHL history have teams have rallied from 0-3 deficits to win a series. This happened in 1942 when the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Montreal Canadiens in the Stanley Cup Final. The New York Islanders came back from down 0-3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 1975 quarterfinals.

More recently there was the Flyers’ second-round comeback over the Bruins in 2010 and the Los Angeles Kings comeback over the San Jose Sharks in their first-round match up in 2014. Also, much of Chicago’s core was part of the group that came back from down 0-3 to the Vancouver Canucks in 2011 to force overtime in Game 7.

BOSTON – MAY 14: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins shakes hands with Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers after Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on May 14, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)
BOSTON – MAY 14: Patrice Bergeron #37 of the Boston Bruins shakes hands with Chris Pronger #20 of the Philadelphia Flyers after Game Seven of the Eastern Conference Semifinals during the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at the TD Garden on May 14, 2010 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Brian Babineau/NHLI via Getty Images)

According to Pronger, the fact that two of the Flyers’ three losses against the Bruins were by one goal helped the group’s confidence in their comeback. Also in their third loss, they were down by one goal for a majority of the game, and even held a lead at the start, before losing 4-1.

“We were in all three games. We felt like we could have won all three games, so we weren’t on a beaten down dejected team that didn’t have a chance,” Pronger said. “We felt like we were in every game. For us it was just a matter of time before the breaks were going to go our way.”

While breaks are important, execution on those breaks are vital for teams down in a series. There can’t be any missed opportunities when you have to win every game.

“As long as you’ve been in those other games you’re trying just as hard as you were in those other games,” Pronger said. “It’s just matter of – are you going to get that one break? Are you going to take advantage of that one break?”

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The Kings’ experience with the Sharks was different than the Flyers with the Bruins. This was because Los Angeles lost by a combined score of 15-5 to San Jose in the first two games before losing in overtime in Game 3.

After that loss the Kings just tried to chip away at the Sharks confidence by just finding ways to win Games 4 and 5. By the time the Kings reached Game 6, they knew they had a legit shot to win the series while the Sharks had lost whatever mojo they had in Games 1-3.

“Once you win Game 4, I think a little bit of pressure gets put on that team,” said former Kings forward Jarret Stoll. “Obviously there’s always pressure for a team to close out a series for sure and if you don’t do it one time and maybe if you don’t do it in Game 5, that pressure builds and builds and if that team can’t handle that pressure and all of a sudden it’s Game 7 and then obviously the pressure is really high and anything can happen. That’s kind of the mindset we took down 3-0. It was a fluky goal in overtime to be down 3-0 and then found a way to win Game 4 and just kind of worried about winning a game in San Jose. We knew if we won a big game in San Jose in Game 5 that we would be in a great position to win a series or at least get it to seven games. Once we won Game 5 we could just feel it and we kind of knew we could win the series.”

While there is some surprise with two of the series where the higher seeds are down – Chicago and Minnesota – Pronger noted that not much separates playoff teams these days. In some respects that’s why the NHL’s postseason has become so enjoyably unpredictable in recent years and why blowing a 3-0 lead isn’t completely unexpected anymore.

“You don’t have this huge disparity between an eighth-place team that has 95-98 points and then you have a one seed might have 110. That’s not a huge difference,” Pronger said. “If you’re a team that goes into overtime or shootouts regularly and you have a really good 3-on-3 or shootout team, you can pick up a quick 10 points just like that, so you’re not really that far off. I just think in a long seven-game series so much has to go right. Health plays a big factor – peaking at the right time. You have teams that get out to a great start in the first 50 games and then they kind of limp into the playoffs and those teams get routed quickly and the team that’s been playing for their life for the last few months trying to get into the playoffs is just used to playing that way and it’s the only way to know how to play now.”

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Josh Cooper is an editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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