There are few things in the Stanley Cup playoffs that are more exciting than an unexpected upset – when a lower seed finds their game at just the right time and pulls off the miracle series win. While that can be intriguing when it happens it can also create a headache in the next round. Bettors must do their best to predict how the team will bounce back from their win can they continue their momentum, or will they fall back to earth? Bettors also need to consider how the public will respond to the situation and where the value will be as a result. Here are five factors to consider when handicapping a team after they have pulled off a big playoff series upset:
Was it really an upset? – This may seem really obvious, but judging by how the media and the public often react it clearly isn’t as obvious as it seems. Anything in which a lower seed beats a higher seed will be called an upset. Sometimes, though, it’s just the case that the better team won – despite what the seedings say. Perhaps the lower ranked team plays in a significantly tougher division and got few free points as a result. Maybe they had been dealing with injuries all season that were resolved by the time the playoffs start. Perhaps their goaltending weakness during the season had become a strength in the playoffs when someone got hot at the right time. Maybe the team had made a change later in the season – adding a veteran player or changing coaches, for example – that had allowed them to perform better down the stretch than they had for much of the year. Before you really react to how an upset will impact things, then, you need to be sure that there really was an upset.
How did the team they upset play? – Even if it was a big upset the result could have had a lot more to do with how poorly the higher seeded team played than how well the lower seed did. If they struggled to score, or were let down by their goaltending, or were outplayed physically, or had chemistry or injury issues then that could easily explain the loss. In order to really get a sense of how significant the upset is and whether the momentum can continue you need to make sure that the winner really played well – well enough to beat a top ranked team that was playing good hockey. If you don’t do this then it can be easy to give a team far too much credit – and the public is all but certain to do just that in most cases.
How did they play? – This is the logical extension of the last point. There are a couple of scenarios that could be of concern here. First, if they didn’t play particularly well but the other team played poorly then they may not be good enough to win another series – even if they do play just as well again. Second, you would have to be concerned if they had won the last series by playing far above their clear potential. If they had played in a way that doesn’t seem to be sustainable based on the talent they have and the energy and luck required to play that way then it would be very tough to trust them to do it again.
How does the style of their next opponent compare? – If a team truly did pull off an upset then the matchup they had with their opponent was a big factor in that. They were able to minimize the strengths of the opponent, and find ways to maximize their skills and assets. If the next opponent has a similar style of play then it is quite possible that they will be able to enjoy similar success again. If the next foe is a very different style – particularly offensive instead of defensive, for example, or a much faster squad – then what worked so well in the upset isn’t likely to work well again, and the advantage the team had in the last round won’t be an advantage here.
Did they capture the public imagination with the win? – The public generally likes favorites, but they can get excited by an underdog if the circumstances are right and their story is an attractive one. Some underdogs will become public favorites after an upset. Other teams, though, will not be particularly compelling to the public, and won’t have gained much in stature or reputation despite the win. The affections of the public aren’t always easy to deduce, but they can be impacted in this case by factors like how much of a public team the upset favorite was, how high profile the series was, whether there is a player who played exceptionally well to fuel the upset, and what else is going on in the playoffs at the same time. The more interested the public is in an underdog the better the chances that the public will overbet that team and value could be created on their opponent as a result.