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Extra hockey eliminates home team's Game 7 advantage

Friday, 04.25.2008 / 9:55 AM / Columns

By John Kreiser - Columnist

The San Jose Sharks defeated the Calgary Flames 5-3 in Game 7 to clinch their first-round playoff series. Sharks beat Flames in 7
Teams work all season for the home-ice advantage. But while playing Game 7 at home is a real edge, when it comes to overtime in Game 7, there is no advantage.

Including the three series in this year's first round that went to the limit, there now have been 123 Game 7s played since the NHL first went to a best-of-seven format in 1939. Home teams have won 78 of the 123 games, a .545 winning percentage that was bolstered slightly by two wins by the home team in three Game 7's in the first round – Montreal beat Boston and San Jose ousted Calgary.

Since play resumed in 2005 after the lockout, home teams have won five of the seven Game 7s played.

But the home teams' advantage in Game 7s disappears with the arrival of overtime. Philadelphia's 3-2 OT victory at Washington on Tuesday marked the 30th time a Game 7 has gone into overtime. Home and road team have split the 30 games – but the road teams now are 11-4 in the 15 games played since 1990.

Working hard – There was a total of 48 games played in the first round of this year's Stanley Cup Playoffs, a big jump from the 43 played in last year's opening round. It was the most games played in the first round since 1997, when the first round also took 48 games to complete. The last time there were more was 1995, which needed 49 games.

Since the first round went to a best-of-seven format in 1987, the busiest opening round came in 1992, when there were 54 games (of a possible 56) played. With the format from 1987-93 featuring intradivision matchups for the first two rounds, two series lasted six games and the other six went the full seven games.

Big jump – It's unusual enough for a team to make the playoffs one season after finishing with the League's worst regular-season record. But by beating the Washington Capitals in the first round, the Philadelphia Flyers did something that's been done only four times since the NHL expanded in 1967: Win a playoff round the year after finishing last overall. They also are the first team to finish above .500 the following season and win a best-of-seven series against a team with a better record.

Before the Flyers, the last team to win a playoff series after finishing last overall the previous season was the 1987 Detroit Red Wings – who still are the only such team to win two rounds. But though the Wings finished second in the Norris Division in 1986-87 before beating Chicago and Toronto, they finished with just 78 points in an 80-game season – a season in which the entire division ended up below.500.

The other such teams to win one round after finishing last the season before were the 1978 Wings, who beat Atlanta in a best-of-three preliminary-round series, and the 1986 Maple Leafs, who swept Chicago in a best-of-five opening-round pairing.

The Bruins are the only Original Six team that never have won a best-of-seven playoff series after losing the first two games. VIDEO
Bad omen – Boston's seven-game loss to Montreal in the opening round preserved a distinction the Bruins would rather not have: They still are the only Original Six team that never has won a best-of-seven playoff series after losing the first two games.

Winning a series after trailing 2-0 has been done 37 times by 16 franchises. Montreal and Detroit have the most (five); the Wings and Bruins have the most losses after winning the first two games – they've been beaten six times.

Through the first round of this year's playoffs, only 13 percent (37 of 285) teams that have lost the first two games have come back to win a series.

Saving the best for last – Detroit goaltender Chris Osgood has 11 playoff shutouts – nice, but hardly a total that will get him in the record books. But Osgood has a knack for getting his shutouts at the right time. His 3-0 victory against Nashville on Sunday marked the fifth time Osgood has posted a shutout in a series-clincher – the most in NHL history. It was the first since 2000, when he blanked Los Angeles, 3-0, to wrap up a four-game sweep in their Western Conference Quarterfinal meeting.

Kid stuff – One reason the New York Rangers are faring so well in the playoffs is that they are getting production from young players. Four rookies – defenseman Marc Staal and forwards Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan and Nigel Dawes – all scored goals in the Rangers' first-round win over New Jersey. The last time the Rangers got playoff goals by four first-year players was 1990, when Darren Turcotte, Mark Janssens, Troy Mallette and Paul Broten all scored.

– Detroit's success during the past 15 years has moved the Wings past the Toronto Maple Leafs and into second place in a pair of Stanley Cup Playoff categories. Detroit's victory in its opening-round series over Nashville was its 59th, one more than the Maple Leafs, and Game 1 in the Western Conference Semifinals against Colorado was the franchise's 525th playoff game, breaking a tie with the Leafs for second place.

The Montreal Canadiens are first in both categories, with 87 series victories and 675 playoff games, including Thursday night's 4-3 overtime victory against Philadelphia. The OT win was the 78th in franchise history, also tops among all teams.

Tom Kostopoulos' goal 48 seconds into overtime against the Flyers was the fastest OT winner in the playoffs since Chris Drury scored at 18 seconds of overtime to give Buffalo a 7-6 win over Ottawa on May 5, 2006.

Quote of the Day

We've got to find a way to win a game. He's played well in the minors, now he gets his opportunity. We tried [with Jonathan Bernier]. The way I look at it, you get opportunities and you make the most of it. That's what [James Reimer] did. Now another opportunity is here and Sparks ... you gotta grab it. Is he ready? We'll find out.

— Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock to the Toronto Star on recalling goalie Garret Sparks from the AHL to start Monday in his NHL debut
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