Islanders: Challenging NHL historical best-of-five record

Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images)
Anthony Beauvillier #18 of the New York Islanders (Photo by Andre Ringuette/Freestyle Photo/Getty Images) /

History says that the winner of game 1 in a best-of-five like the New York Islanders, typically win their series. We should pump the breaks on getting excited.

With a 2-1 win over the Florida Panthers, the New York Islanders took a big step in their qualifying round best-of-five series. Teams who win game one in a best-of-five win the series 81.9 percent of the time.

But there are a few issues with that record. The NHL hasn’t seen a best-of-five series for some 34 years. The last best-of-five was in the 1986 playoffs.

As you can imagine the game has evolved since then.

Best-of-Five History

It’s been a while since the NHL has seen a best-of-five series.

From 1917 through 1931, the NHL routinely featured a best-of-five series somewhere within the postseason. In 1917 the best-of-five series was between the NHL champion and the Pacific Coast champion. The winner would get the Stanley Cup.

After 1931, best-of-five series disappeared from the playoffs altogether from 1932 through to 1980. In 1980, 16 teams would qualify for the playoffs for the first time in the NHL. All 16 teams would be pooled 1v16, 2v15, etc… All those opening-round series would be best-of-fives.

Those best-of-five series vanished again for the 1987 playoffs with all series going to a best of seven.

Different Game

So while 81.9 percent of teams who win the opening game of a best-of-five win the series, the game is wildly different then it was in 1986. Here are some rule changes from ’86 to today:

  • 90-91: Neutral zone was shrunk and more room created behind the net.
  • 91-92: Goal crease grew and became a semi-circle.
  • 98-99: Goal crease squared off (only the top was kept rounded).
  • 02-03: “Hurry-up” faceoff and line-changes
  • 05-06: Neutral zone shrunk again, goalies can only play the puck in trapezoid, no line change on the team who ices the puck.
  • 15-16: Video review for offside and interference.

Here’s a more comprehensive list of rule changes over the years in the NHL.

Those are just some of the big changes to the game from the last time a best-of-five series was played. And that doesn’t get to the more obvious changes to the game. Like how goalies don’t stand up anymore and not to mention that players are bigger, faster, and stronger now than they were in 86.

Just look at this clip from 1986. Compare it today’s game and it just isn’t the same anymore.

It’s obviously a good thing that the New York Islander won Game 1 against the Florida Panthers. But we shouldn’t think it’s a fait-accompli that the Islanders are now going to win the series because of it.

With back-to-back games on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Islanders will face a significant test from a now desperate Florida Panthers squad.