In the mid-2000s, a teenager from Oakville High School in suburban St. Louis had a dream. While some disputed his long-term athletic upside, he imagined a future in which he would guide the St. Louis Blues, the preferred hockey team of his youth, to postseason glory. And no moment has more tension parlayed into more pandemoneum than an overtime winner in a Game 7 in front of a rabid home crowd.
As it turns out, the haters were right, and despite my prodiguous skills in fifth grade floor hockey, I was not destined for professional sports stardom. But a young man one class ahead of me at OHS, Patrick Maroon, lived out his dream on Tuesday night, rebounding an excellent Robert Thomas attempt to guide the St. Louis Blues to a Game 7 victory against fellow St. Louisan, goalie Ben Bishop, and his Dallas Stars in order to put the Blues in the Western Conference Finals.
And while it is a little bizarre to see the mythology of Patrick Maroon: Gritty Scrappy Local Kid in its evolved state for the sake of national storytelling (while Maroon was a 6th round draft pick and didn’t become an NHL regular until the relatively late age of 26, I can assure you that being extremely good at hockey was the thing he was known for in high school), I am absolutely loving it. There isn’t really a such thing as pride in being from Oakville. It’s the completely middle-of-the-road “town” where people live because, sure, it’s fine. There were 35,000 residents and I would have to explain to other people from St. Louis County what it was when I was in college. But now it’s Pat Maroon’s town. I will keep reading Pat Maroon puff pieces from Blues beat writer Jim Thomas (whose oldest son was in Maroon’s class at OHS) until the heat death of the universe.
The inevitable comparison when a local athlete does something great in St. Louis with his team’s back against the wall is David Freese, whose game-tying triple and game-winning home run in Game 6 of the 2011 World Series made him an instant legend with the St. Louis Cardinals. But the comparison is also inevitably unfair to all comers because Game 6 of the 2011 World Series might be the greatest game in the history of sports. This isn’t a laughable assertion to make. The first baseball game I can remember hearing people compare to Game 6 was the fifth and final game of the 2012 NLDS, in which the St. Louis Cardinals scored four runs in the top of the 9th inning to complete a comeback victory of the Washington Nationals. And it was a great game. But it wasn’t Game 6.
From a sheer tension standpoint, there is a key advantage Tuesday night’s hockey game had over Game 6 of the 2011 World Series–extreme leverage. The Blues and Stars played for 85 minutes and 50 seconds of game action and were tied for all but 2 minutes and 25 of those seconds. During Game 6, the Texas Rangers had as high as a 96% chance of winning the game (following Ryan Theriot’s strikeout to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning), and while this retrospectively adds to the drama of the game, it also means there were stretches of the game where the result felt inevitable. The Blues had a brief stretch where their odds of winning the game, by virtue of a one goal lead, were somewhere in the high sixties, and otherwise, the game was basically a coinflip. And that’s not even to mention the inherent drama of NHL playoff overtime. By law, I am now required to share the most important writing ever done on the subject.
Of course, even if you are able to look past the whole “they’re different sports” part, there were some pretty fundamental differences in the postseason situations between the Blues on Tuesday and the Cardinals in 2011. Both teams were facing elimination from the postseason, but the Cardinals only needed to win two more games to win the World Series. The Blues needed not only to win their game but win an additional eight before they would be able to hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time in franchise history.
From the perspective of impacting championship probability, a winner-take-all game in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs is equivalent to a winner-take-all game in the League Division Series, which would put Game 7 against the Stars on par with games the Cardinals played in three consecutive seasons in the early 2010s. Without question, the single moment which most dramatically impacted the win probability for the Blues on Tuesday was the Maroon goal–the game went from de facto coin flip (ignoring how thoroughly the Blues dominated possession in the game–Win Probability isn’t based on team strength but rather on game/score situation) to 100% win probability for the Blues.
There aren’t really individual plays in the same way there are in baseball for hockey, but I’m going to declare the WPA of the Maroon goal at 49%–I’m giving the Blues a 51% chance of winning the game at the point of the faceoff as it was in the Blues’ offensive zone, and even with it being a roughly even chance of either team winning the faceoff, the Blues had the better chance of getting the next shot on goal and therefore a better chance of getting the next goal. 49% is an unusually high but certainly not unprecedented WPA for a baseball game. Here was the top WPA moment in the Blues’ three consecutive Game 5 victories in the NLDS earlier this decade.
- 2011 vs. Phillies: Top 1st, Rafael Furcal triple, 9% WPA
- 2012 vs. Nationals: Top 9th, Pete Kozma single, 41% WPA
- 2013 vs. Pirates: Bottom 2nd, David Freese home run, 21% WPA
If there is a baseball equivalent to the tension present throughout Game 7 on Tuesday, it might be Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS, but there’s also a material difference between a game that is consistently separated by one point and a game that is consistently tied. Anticipation was the real catalyst in 2011, but on Tuesday, there was an actual big moment. And by sheer Championship Probability impact, Maroon’s goal was bigger.
In both cases, the multiplier to determine Championship Probability, as opposed to single-game Win Probability, is 25%. Since it was a winner-take-all game, Win Probability is equal to Series Probability. And by sheer mathematical probability, the victor’s odds of a championship are 25%. As such, almost all of the biggest Championship Probability Added plays in big four sports history have comes in either Game 7 of a championship round or a Super Bowl/NFL championship game (every Super Bowl is, for all intents and purposes, a Game 7). No other game can be any more than half as important.
About a year and a half ago, I did the leg work in calculating the most important plays in St. Louis Cardinals history by Championship Probability Added at Viva El Birdos, and it turns out that Maroon’s roughly 12.25% Championship Probability Added wouldn’t crack the top sixteen moments in St. Louis Cardinals history. But also, this is a deceptively bleak way to look at it. After all, this was a bigger play than the hit which caused Pete Kozma(?!?!?!) to become absolutely reviled at Nationals Park. So here is a look at some notable plays that had a lower Championship Probability Added than Patrick Maroon’s Game 7 winner’s mark of 12.25%.
- Ozzie Smith’s “Go Crazy, Folks” walk-off home run in Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series: 10.75%.
- Jim Edmonds’s walk-off home run to win Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS: 9%.
- Albert Pujols Hits The Dang Train Track, Game 5 of the 2005 NLCS: 9.125%.
- Adam Wainwright’s strikeout of Carlos Beltran to end Game 7 of the 2006 NLCS: 9%.
- Carlos Beltran’s putout/throwout of Mark Ellis at home plate in Game 1 of the 2013 NLCS: 6%.
Patrick Maroon’s goal was really special. And any statistical justification is merely a way of creating fun facts. For some people who really, really care about hockey, this is their David Freese Triple. For some people who don’t care about hockey at all (if this is you, thanks for reading this far, by the way), this is meaningless. Personally, I think it was really cool, and you aren’t going to convince me it wasn’t, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of these incredible St. Louis sports moments being crafted later this month and later this year.