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Home ice not an advantage for everyone

by John Kreiser

The home-ice advantage has been a two-pronged sword so far this spring.

On the one hand, home teams are piling up victories. Home teams were 30-17 in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. That's a huge improvement from last year, when they were 22-27, or 2011, when they were 21-28.

Add in five wins in as many games in the second round and home teams own a 35-17 advantage. They were just 46-43 in both 2010 and '11 before going 39-47 last spring -- one in which the Los Angeles Kings went 10-1 away from home on the way to winning the Stanley Cup.

Of the 16 teams involved in the opening round, just five didn't lose at least one game at home; only the Kings, Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers went 3-0.

But while home teams had a much higher winning percentage in this year's first round, having the home-ice advantage didn't necessarily translate into series success.


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Only three of the eight teams that owned the home-ice edge in the opening round advanced to the conference semifinals. Aside from the two top-seeded teams, the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference and Chicago Blackhawks in the West, the only other higher seed to advance was the Boston Bruins, No. 4 in the East. And that didn't come easily -- the Bruins became the first team in NHL history to overcome a three-goal deficit in the third period of a Game 7 before beating the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-4 in overtime. Before Monday, the 1979 Montreal Canadiens (against Boston in the Semifinals) were the only team that had overcome as much as a two-goal deficit that late in a seventh game.

In fact, road teams won two of the three Game 7s played in the opening round, just as they did last year on the way to the first winning spring by visiting teams since 1999, when the road teams won 46 of 88 games.

Good to the last shot -- The Bruins forced overtime against Toronto by scoring twice in the final 1:22 of regulation, including the tying goal by Patrice Bergeron with 50.1 seconds remaining. That was the fifth game-tying goal this spring scored in the final minute of regulation -- two more than were scored all of last spring. Bergeron became only the third player ever to score the tying and overtime goal in Game 7, and the first to do it by getting the tying goal in the final five minutes of regulation.

Bergeron's tying goal was the second scored by the Bruins after goaltender Tuukka Rask was lifted for an extra attacker -- Milan Lucic got the Bruins within 4-3 with 1:22 remaining. There were only two such instances during the regular season -- and both came on the same night. Boston scored twice to tie the New York Rangers and the Tampa Bay Lightning did the same against the Montreal Canadiens, both on Feb. 12. Both the Bruins and Lightning lost those games in shootouts.

Working overtime (kind of) -- This year's first round saw a record 17 overtime games, one more than the mark set last year. But while more than 36 percent of the 47 games played required extra time to reach a decision, none of them required all that much more than 60 minutes. Only five of the 17 games needed more than 9:24 of OT, and the longest overtime was the 16:35 that the Chicago Blackhawks needed to beat the Minnesota Wild 2-1 in the opener of their series.

It's the first time since 2009 that no games in the conference quarterfinals reached a second overtime -- and in '09, just six first-round games went past regulation. The last time all overtime games in the first round were settled faster than this year was in 2002 -- and again, there were only six games that went past regulation.

The trend continued Thursday night, when the Boston Bruins needed 15:20 of OT to beat the New York in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The last time every overtime game was decided in a single extra period was 2001, when all 17 games ended in one OT.

Different round, different results -- Goaltender Craig Anderson is the biggest reason the seventh-seeded Ottawa Senators upended the second-seeded Montreal Canadiens in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series. Anderson faced 180 shots in five games and stopped 171, a save percentage of .950. He allowed two first-period goals and none in the third period on a total of 106 shots in the five-game victory.

But the conference semifinals against the Pittsburgh Penguins were a whole different story. Anderson surrendered a total of three goals in the first and third periods of Game 1 on just 24 shots. Overall, he was beaten four times on just 30 shots in Ottawa's 4-1 loss.

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