Entering the Stanley Cup playoffs, looking to bet on the road team was almost a sure path to profits.
Highlighted by the Los Angeles Kings, which posted an incredible 11-1 road record en route to the Cup last season, the visiting team, often going off at plus-money, has been the way to lean when wagering ever since the conclusion of the 2004-05 lockout.
In the Western Conference playoffs, 22 of 35 games (63 percent) went to the men in the road white uniforms. The Eastern Conference also saw 22 road winners, but in 45 games for a near push. The Cup final saw L.A. and New Jersey split six games.
So what happened to the home-ice disadvantage often found in the Stanley Cup playoffs? In talks with other hockey bettors in an attempt to figure out this dichotomy, some ideas include:
Line changes – Coaches are (finally) making more use of specialty matchups by being able to make the last substitution. Wait to see who the visitors place on the ice prior to a face-off, then counter with the proper attacker or defender.
This can be especially true on icing infractions. The offending team can’t make a change, so you place a fresh center man on the ice, win the draw, then quickly sub him out while controlling the puck.
Familiarity – This one was dubious in our debates, yet there are prime examples. The Washington Capitals and New York Rangers have met in postseason play four times in the past five seasons. The visitors held a 4-3 advantage in 2009, but the home side has won ever since, going 4-1, 5-2 and 6-1 over the past three seasons.
In addition, the L.A. Kings-San Jose Sharks series (regular season and postseason) has the home side winning 10 of the past 11 meetings entering Game 4 of their West semifinal series.
The Short Season – Over an 82-game season, everyone is beat up, so any adrenaline advantage by the home team is neutralized. But this season’s 99-day special, more skaters have their skating legs, which might also explain the lack of multiple-overtime games – the first one occurred Sunday after none in any of eight first-round series.
Whatever the reason, the numbers don’t lie. In the first round, West road teams flip-flopped their previous form with a 7-15 mark. East roadies were 10-15.
Ottawa vs. Pittsburgh: This is becoming a goaltending battle ever since the Penguins sat (i.e., benched) the struggling Marc-Andre Fleury, who had lost three straight playoff series, in favor of Tomas Vokoun. Meanwhile, Senators goalie Craig Anderson, who missed the month of March due to injury, is in form with a .940 save percentage.
In any Penguins game, an UNDER is no sure thing, yet with four lines rolling, there is no reason to expect an upset here despite a strong effort by our vote for Coach of the Year in Ottawa’s Paul “Walrus” MacLean.
By the end of the week, the series should have been over. However, the Pens blew Game 3 when Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson scored a shorthanded goal with 28.6 seconds left, as Ottawa won in double OT.
Also, can someone explain how the Senators’ Erik Karlsson, a Norris Trophy winner (but who took a late, silly penalty), was able to return so quickly from his Achilles injury.
N.Y. Rangers vs. Boston: NYR coach John Tortorella needs to quickly match up with the Bruins. Just like the Rangers’ first-round series with the Caps, they trail 2-0 after falling twice in Boston.
The problem may be the mix of veterans and youngsters (like Torey Krug) on the Boston defense beginning to gel so well. It’s been difficult to grasp if goalie Tuukka Rask can stay awake.
Los Angeles vs. San Jose: The Sharks no longer have high expectations, while a roster turnover finds a more balanced attack that was able to avoid a massive deficit by taking Game 3 to get back into the series. San Jose forward Raffi Torres is suspended for the balance of the series for his cheap-shot hit on L.A.’s Jarret Stoll.
Sharks GM Doug Wilson criticized the league for the penalty and the NHL fined the team $100K for his comments. Sounds like a motivational tool to keep San Jose from falling into the quicksand trap that is Kings goalie Jonathan Quick.
Chicago vs. Detroit: In a final hurrah series (Detroit switches conference next season), the Wings’ Henrik Zetterberg is a leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy, especially if able to upset the top-seeded Blackhawks.
With the Kiddie Corps responding late because of the shortened season – and since so few President’s Cup winners go on to win the Stanley Cup – why not look to the Wings to win the series. A split of two games in Chicago is the recipe to success, so if home ice does matter, Games 3 and 4 at Joe Louis Arena are critical must-wins.
Contact Nick at [email protected].