The Pittsburgh Penguins Battled Probability Before Advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals
It was over.
In a pivotal Game 6 against the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals, the Penguins had things locked up early. A goal in the first period by Phil Kessel gave the Pens a lead heading into the second period, and then the team was able to notch two goals off of a double minor in that second period to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
According to RinkStats.com, the Penguins' probability of winning the Game 6 contest -- a win would advance them to the Eastern Conference Finals -- was well over 90% after the second power play goal. And with a little under five minutes left in the contest, that number rose to almost 97%.
Then came the drama.
The Capitals did score before the end of the second period, but even then, RinkStats.com's algorithm gave the Penguins a 93.52% chance of winning the game entering the third. After all, Pittsburgh still had a commanding two-goal lead.
But the Penguins took a delay of game penalty. And another one. And another one. They all came in a row, within minutes of one another.
#Pens are the 2nd team in NHL history to receive 3 straight Delay of Game - Puck Over Glass penalties since the rule was modified in 2005
— Sportsnet Stats (@SNstats) May 11, 2016
Those penalties resulted in multiple 5-on-3 chances for the Capitals, and when it was all said and done, Washington was able to tie the game at three with less than 10 minutes left in regulation.
Pittsburgh actually lost their edge in win probability towards the end of the third period, as they had to kill off yet another penalty, this time a simple 5-on-4. At the start of the penalty, Washington's probability to win was 56.72%.
Fortunately for Penguins' fans, the team killed it off.
But a 3-3 tie at the end of regulation wasn't expected. Not at all. Anyone watching the game assumed the Penguins would end up victorious, and so did every algorithm out there.
But despite losing the math battle, the Penguins still won.
Nick Bonino's overtime goal clinched the series for the Penguins -- a series they weren't supposed to win. Now, as they start the Eastern Conference Finals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Penguins are heavy favorites to win the Stanley Cup according to our numbers, sitting with a 30.42% chance.
They just needed a little drama to get there.