[For an explanation of the table and how the odds were computed, see here].
S.J - DET
This series is interesting in the sense that there is no obvious favorite. The Sharks had the better regular season goal ratio by a fair amount, and have about a 65% chance to win if the odds are computed on that basis. On the other hand, the Wings had the better underlying numbers. While both teams were very good at generating shots on the powerplay and moderately good at shot prevention on the penalty kill, the Wings were better at outshooting at EV with the score tied.
I've included an excel document below that contains a list of series from 1993-94 onward where one of the teams had the better pythagorean expectation, and the other the better shot ratio. The team with the better pythagorean expectation is listed under the column heading 'T1', whereas the team with the better shot ratio is listed under the column heading 'T2'. 'W%' denotes pythagorean expectation, whereas 'SR' stands for shot ratio. 'Result' indicates which team won the series. 'W' indicates that the team with the better pythagorean expectation won, while 'L' indicates that the team with the better shot ratio won.
(I realize that shot ratio and the underlying numbers are distinct metrics; however, the data necessary to compute an expected winning percentage based on the underlying numbers just isn't available for the seasons in question. In lieu of that, I think that shot ratio provides an adequate proxy.)
Overall, there were 65 series that satisfied the above criteria. Of those series, the team with the better pythagorean expectation won 35 times, while the team with the better shot ratio won 30 times. This bodes well for the Sharks, I think.
The average difference in shot ratio between the two teams was about 0.12, which is almost identical to the difference between the Sharks and Wings. The average difference in pythagorean expectation was about 0.04, which is less than the 0.07 separating the two teams. Again, I think that this works in San Jose's favor.
On the other hand, the Wings almost certainly aren't a true talent 0.53 team, and it would be foolish to regard them as such.
All things considered, I think that this matchup is pretty close to a cointoss. I'm going with the Wings, if only because I think that the underlying numbers method provides a better measure of a team's true ability than does pythagorean expectation, even though there may or may not be an empirical basis for that viewpoint.
DET in 7.
The Canucks are a good team, but I can't help but get the sense that they're a tad overrated. I was browsing Hfboards the other day and I noticed that some 60% of the posters there have picked Vancouver to win the series. To be sure, some of that has to do with the fact that Canucks fans outnumber Hawks fans among HF users. Even so, I found the poll results interesting as the numbers suggest that Chicago is the better team. As posted above, the Hawks are about a 60% shot to win on the basis of adjusted winning percentage, and about a 70% shot if the underlying numbers are used.
The two teams were actually pretty close to one another in terms of regular season goal differential, but the Hawks were much, much better at outshooting. Chicago led the league with a shot ratio of 1.36 (awesome), whereas the Canucks were tenth at 1.05 (meh).
What interests me is how often a playoff team in the Hawks position has performed historically in terms of series wins and losses. That is to say, if two teams are facing one another in the playoffs, and one team has the better regular season shot ratio by a large margin (say, at least 0.2 better), but is only slightly better in terms of pythagorean expectation (say, no larger than 0.08), how often does that team end up winning?
Looking strictly at playoff results between 1993-94 and 2008-09, I found 32 series that met these criteria. I've arranged the series according to date in the excel document below. The headings may require some explanation. 'T1' denotes the team with the better shot and goal ratio, whereas 'T2' denotes their opponent. W% stands for adjusted winning percentage, and SR stands for shot ratio. The 'Results' column indicates which team won the series. 'W' indicates that the team with the better goal and shot ratio won the series, whereas 'L' indicates that the other team won. The bottom column shows the average adjusted winning percentage and shot ratio for the T1 and T2 teams, respectively. As it turns out, the T1 and T2 teams differed, on average, by about 0.03 in adjusted winning percentage and by about 0.3 in shot ratio, which, in both cases, is virtually identical to the gap separating the Hawks and Canucks.
All in all, the T1 team won 19 out of the 32 series, or 58%. That's hardly overwhelming and, to be honest, I would have expected that number to be higher. If the historical results are to given any weight at all, Chicago's chance of winning the series is probably closer to 60% rather than the 70% figure generated by the underlying numbers model.
In any event, the historical results are consistent with my general point that the Hawks ought to be the favorite here. The Canucks have a reasonable chance to win, but it's not somewhat that should be expected in the sense of being more likely than not.
CHI in 6.
This pick doesn't require too much deliberation. The Pens might be the best team in the conference, whereas the Habs are easily the weakest squad to advance. Pittsburgh is the heavy favorite regardless of whether the odds are determined through each team's pythagorean expectation or through the underlying numbers. That said, 29% ain't trivial and, as we observed last round, anything can happen over the course of a best-of-seven series.
PIT in 5.
I think that these two teams are relatively equal, but that the Bruins are slightly better. It's hard to pick against a team that's as good territorially at even strength as Boston is, even for a Habs fan such as yours truly. To add to that, Savard is expected to return for the series, and that should help them. I expect them to advance.
BOS in 6.