At this point in the Stanley Cup Playoffs does home ice matter?
May 01, 2018 3:01 AM
by Nick Pellegrino
Everyone asks where is the supposed home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Entering the final game of the first round – Boston’s 7-4 bouncing of Toronto – home and road teams were dead-even with 22 victories each. Two weeks ago, this column explained why the Boston Bruins would win at home in Game 7, giving the hosts the slimmest of leads.
Of course, since the home team is usually favored, the money choice is to play the road dog.
In Round 2, it’s even more tilted toward the visitors. Among the openers in each series, only the Vegas Golden Knights garnered a victory – by a near-record 7-0 demolition of San Jose; the record is 10-0 by (again) Boston over Toronto in 1968.
Nashville, Washington and Tampa Bay are wondering what happened.
Unfortunately for local fans, the Sharks took Game 2 in double-overtime, thus gaining their desired road split to earn the home-ice “advantage.”
In Round 1, the road victories were taken by the higher seeds in Games 3 and 4, as only one upset occurred when San Jose swept Anaheim. The start of Round 2 shows a complete turnaround so it’s possible all four division winners are in danger of elimination.
Every team that posted a major shutout win – most notably, Pittsburgh and Nashville in Round 1; Vegas in Round 2 – came out flat in their next outing and lost. Luckily for the Golden Knights, three of the next four games are in the Bay Area, so recent history says to go with Vegas.
The handicapping of the goaltenders again ranks among the keys. Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury could become this generation’s version of “Mr. Zero,” the nickname handed to Hall of Fame goalie Frank Brimsek of the 1930s-40s era, who posted shutouts in six of his first seven games as a rookie, eventually winning the 1939 Stanley Cup for Boston.
Fleury, despite allowing four goals in the Game 2 double-overtime loss, still enters the week with a 1.00 goals-against average. Brimsek owns the record at 1.25, with no one else really close.
Brimsek also owns the best-ever postseason save percentage, yet Fleury is ahead of that pace at a stellar .967 mark.
Talk about placing pressure on Sharks goalie Martin Jones, who also holds excellent marks (2.07 GAA, .931 Save%). Take away his disastrous Game 1 outing vs. VGK, Jones numbers improve to 1.29 and .957. So if the goalies are statistically even, we need to find other differences to handicap these teams.
Was the Game 1 absence of C Joe Thornton (knee) that much of a difference or the suspension of Evander Kane, who was obtained from Chicago specifically for a Cup run? Then again, the Knights dominated Game 1 so how do you blame either side for losing a double-overtime contest. So I will stay on my prediction of… Vegas in 6.
Did the Bruins intentionally lose to Florida in a make-up game tacked on to the end of the regular season? The poor performance may not have been to play Toronto instead of New Jersey, but rather to give the Lightning the “dreaded” home-ice “advantage.”
The result: the Bruins win Game 1 in Tampa – it’s amazing what a little Irish whiskey can do to your thought process… yet it worked! Bruins G Tuukka Rask has been on a Cup winner before, but it was Tim Thomas who played over the entire 2013 Cup run. Still, his playoff experience is superior to Bolts G Andrei Vasilevskiy, who led the league with 44 wins in his first season playing more than 50 games.
The NHL may push Steven Stamkos as the team’s star, but 100-point scoring RW Nikita Kucherov may be the key for Tampa Bay, along with more consistent play by the defense.
I still like Boston, owners of one of the league’s top records since Dec. 18, as they advance to the Final Four… if they can stay out of the penalty box.
How many times can Washington blow two-goal leads and remain in the playoffs? So far, the total is four, so when the Caps took a 3-0 lead in Game 3, fans became nervous when the Penguins scored to trim their deficit to 3-1.
Despite the Capitals winning over the weekend after blowing Game 1, Pittsburgh gained the road split and now heads for home. The Penguins are two-time defending Cup champs and know how to win at home despite what all the other teams do.
Evgeni Malkin – called “Ev-Jeannie” (like “I Dream of Jeannie”) by a local radio talking head “expert” – is expected to return this week. Malkin has a leg injury.
The Caps’ Alex Ovechkin, this year’s Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy winner, registered his 100th career playoff point (in just 104 games) in Game 2, However, the other lines need to produce in case G Braden Holtby has another hiccup.
We checked with local media in Manitoba and Tennessee to find “hidden” details to help determine a winner. Down South, I don’t know what those sportswriters were “see-an.”
After skipping through the lead story on the projected 45-man roster of the NFL Tennessee Titans, the hockey coverage placed blame all over the Predators for a Game 1 setback to Winnipeg.
The last time I looked, the Preds held the shot edge, 49-19, won two-thirds of the faceoffs and did not commit a penalty. However, the Jets were able to counter-attack and get some goals.
Let’s instead say Winnipeg got the breaks despite being outplayed and Nashville has nothing to hang their heads about.
Then in Sunday’s Game 2, the role-playing reversed. Winnipeg was the better team, but Nashville rallied for a 3-2 lead, only to allow a 6-on-5 goal down the stretch, yet still eventually won in another double-overtime affair.
Game 3 heads for the Great Canadian Plains, where “white-out” conditions – all the fans wear white – are expected inside at Bell MTS Centre. The Jets have won 12 straight on home ice.
The Buffalo Sabres won the No. 1 overall pick to the 2018 NHL Draft after the lottery was held on Saturday. Moving up into the top three were Carolina at No. 2, followed by Montreal.