As the Florida Panthers entered Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs against the Toronto Maple Leafs, they’ve started to take on the mantra of being the underdog. In fact, over the past while, I’ve heard Matthew Tkachuk talk about his team a couple of times using the phrase “we are the underdog.”

I’m not sure he really believes it; or, does he? And, if he does, is that such a smart move?

Related: How Can the Maple Leafs Get the Most Out of William Nylander?

Assuming the Position of an Underdog Is an Interesting Choice

It’s hard to say for sure whether a team truly believes it is the underdog. Or, are the team just using the phrase as a self-motivational tactic? Certainly, it’s common for teams to utilize such language to create a sense of unity. It also encourages the team to rally around a common goal. By portraying themselves as underdogs, teams might feel more motivated to prove themselves and overcome the odds. 

Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

At the same time, it’s also possible that the Panthers truly believe they are the underdog. On one hand, they could believe they should have more respect. They might also believe they’re being underestimated and overlooked by their opponents.

Ultimately, only the team members themselves can say for sure whether they really believe their self-talk about being underdogs or if it’s just a tactic to motivate themselves and their fans.

But, Is It a Good Thing to Be the Underdog?

All this talk about being an underdog encouraged me to do some research. The questions I wanted to answer were these: “How often in professional sports does the underdog win?” and “What are the percentages that underdogs actually win a series?”

The fact is that it isn’t that great to be an underdog in professional sports. The frequency of upsets or underdogs winning in professional sports can vary widely depending on the specific sport, league, and season. In general, however, upsets are relatively rare events in professional sports.

That’s especially true in playoff or championship situations where the competition is usually evenly matched. It’s also even truer when the teams play a series of games rather than just a single game.

It’s Hard to Find Specific Numbers, But Underdogs Don’t Fare Well in General

Although it’s tough to find specific percentages about how often an underdog (a weaker team with a poorer record) wins in professional sports, my best research about how underdogs perform in professional sports is telling. It suggests that, according to historical data, underdogs have won around 20-30% of NFL football games, 25-35% of MLB baseball games, and 30-40% of NBA basketball games. 

In the NHL, upsets are far less common than in other sports. For example, although US college sports are not professional, they do produce some upsets. That might be especially true with NCAA football bowl games or such tournaments as NCAA’s March Madness in college basketball.

Related: 3 Problems the Maple Leafs Must Overcome to Win Game 2

In the NHL, Underdogs Have a Poor Track Record for Winning

In NHL hockey, data from the past few seasons suggests that around 25-30% of NHL playoff series have resulted in an upset. Only about one in four times does the lower-seeded NHL team defeat the favourite team.

Obviously, an underdog can win for a few reasons. These include first that the NHL team that wasn’t favoured was really the better team. However, given the length of the regular season and the number of times teams played each other, by the time the postseason comes we have a pretty good idea who the best teams are.

Mitch Marner, Maple Leafs

A second reason includes factors such as injuries, team dynamics, and momentum (for example). Neither of these teams has major injuries. And, while the Panthers would seem to have the momentum, that can be a fleeting thing. It might have carried them to a Game 1 win.

However, the root word for momentum is “moment.” For me, that says about how long momentum might last. Need more be said?

Upsets Do Happen in the NHL

However, upsets do still happen in the NHL. The percentage of such surprises can vary from year to year and depends on many factors. These include team strength, injuries, and how individual teams match up with each other.

Overall, while upsets in the NHL playoffs are not as common as in some other sports, they are still a regular occurrence and can make for some exciting playoff moments.

That said, given how NHL playoff series usually work out over history, if the Panthers want to be the underdogs to the Maple Leafs, as they say on Star Trek, “Make it so.”


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