If you study the history and crunch the numbers, you start to get a clearer picture of the challenge facing your Tampa Bay Lightning. • Technically speaking, the team is toast. • Give or take a miracle. • At least that's the pessimistic interpretation of the statistics in front of me. Since the National Hockey League went to its best-of-seven format in the Stanley Cup final, the team leading after five games has gone on to win the series 78.3 percent of the time. • That's disturbing. In fact, if you're a Lightning fan, it's downright depressing. • And, heaven knows, depressed and disturbed is no way to start a new week. So we're here to offer five reasons why you should tell hockey historians to go shove it today.
1. There has never been a more competitive Stanley Cup final in modern history, and that is neither opinion nor hyperbole.
The first five games have all been decided by one goal, a feat not seen since the 1951 final. And while the scores were close in '51, the actual results were not. Toronto won that Cup against Montreal in five games.
What makes this Tampa Bay-Chicago series even more remarkable is that no team has led by more than one goal at any moment in the series. That means we have been seconds away from a tie or a lead change throughout 15 consecutive periods. Five games later, each team has taken exactly 136 shots.
It has literally been edge-of-the-seat hockey every second of every game.
So why is that a reason for optimism?
Because it suggests, while the Blackhawks currently lead the series, the teams are almost identically matched.
"The league has been pushing for more and more parity, and that's exactly what they've got here,'' said Lightning founder and NHL Hall of Famer Phil Esposito. "Every single one of these games has come down to which team got the better break. We've gotten the breaks in the games we've won, and Chicago got the break (in Game 5).
"We just have to hope for a break in Game 6.''
2. While history — and common sense — clearly favors the Blackhawks, there is reason to believe the odds aren't quite as extreme as they seem.
It's true that the leader after five games has gone on to win the series 78.3 percent of the time since 1939, but the results haven't been as lopsided in today's NHL.
The team with the one-game advantage has won the Cup 66.6 percent of the time in the past 20 years. Still not good, but not quite as disheartening either.
3. Calling a team resilient is a worn-out cliche.
It also happens to be true when it comes to the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has faced three elimination games this postseason and has won all three, including Game 6 in Detroit and Game 7 in New York.
4. The Lightning goes into tonight's game on a two-game losing streak. This team hasn't lost three in a row in more than a year.
5. Turns out, home ice can be a tricky thing deep in the playoffs. Since 2000, there have been 16 opportunities for a team to clinch the Stanley Cup in front of a home crowd. The local team has gone 8-8 in those 16 games.
Not to suggest the elastic might be getting tight on the underpants of Chicago players tonight, but the Blackhawks have not clinched the Stanley Cup at home since 1938.
So what does it all mean?
It's pretty clear that history is not on Tampa Bay's side right now. But while precedent is instructive, it isn't necessarily predictive.
History is not made by forecasts or statistical analysis. It is made by people. And, for at least a few more hours, it still remains within the Lightning's grasp.