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Home ice not an advantage in this year's playoffs

by John Kreiser
Teams spend 82 games battling to make sure they have home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This year, they shouldn't have bothered.

Home teams had a dreadful time in the opening round, winning just 22 games and losing 27 while being outscored 152-135. That's a big swing from the last couple years. In 2008, home teams went 27-21 in the opening round, while they were 24-20 last year.

The two teams that had home ice for Game 7 -- Washington and Phoenix -- both lost. In fact, seven of the eight teams that won in the opening round clinched their series on the road. The Boston Bruins (against Buffalo) were the only team to close their first-round series in front of their home fans.

Barring a major swing, home teams will have a hard time matching their performance in last year's playoffs -- they were 52-35 (.598), the fourth year in a row that home teams' winning percentage in the playoff had improved. That also was the best showing by home teams since the current intra-conference format was adopted in 1994.

Home teams haven't finished below .500 in the playoffs since going 42-44 in 1999 -- the only time that's happened under the current format. This could be the second -- although San Jose did get home teams off to a better start in the second round with a 4-3 defeat of Detroit on Thursday night.

In sequence --
This year's playoffs do feature a statistical oddity -- there is exactly one of each of the eight seeds remaining. The East has seeds 4 (Pittsburgh), 6 (Boston), 7 (Philadelphia) and 8 (Montreal), while the West has 1 (San Jose), 2 (Chicago), 3 (Vancouver) and 5 (Detroit).

This isn't a common occurrence, but it's not unprecedented. In fact, this is the fourth time it's happened. The sequential second round also took place in 2006, 1999 and 1995.

Through the 16 seasons of the current format, it's not surprising that top-seeded teams playing clubs seeded No. 8 have the biggest winning margin (23-9). What's most surprising is that the next-best group is the No. 4 seeds, who've gone 22-10 against No. 5 seeds in what on paper figures to be the tightest series since they're generally the two teams closest in points.

The most likely higher seed to lose? No. 2 -- second-seeded teams are only 17-15 against teams seeded No. 7, including Philadelphia's ouster of New Jersey this year.

7 down --
Bruce Boudreau has coached four playoff series since taking over behind the bench three years ago in Washington -- and all four have gone to a seventh game. Unfortunately, the Caps have lost three of the four, meaning they've joined the Colorado Avalanche (1998-2000) and Ottawa Senators (2002-04) as the only NHL teams to lose a Game 7 three years in a row. In all, Washington is 2-7 in Game 7s despite playing eight of the nine games (including all four under Boudreau) at home.

The Caps also became the fourth team (and first from the Eastern Conference) under the current format to win the Presidents' Trophy and lose in the opening round.

Making the sacrifice -- As good as Montreal goaltender Jaroslav Halak was in stopping 131 of 134 shots in the last three games against Washington, he owes a debt of gratitude to his teammates.

Though the Capitals had 292 shots on goal (43 per game) in the seven-game series, Montreal players blocked another 182 (26 per game), including an incredible 41 in Game 7. In the deciding game, the Habs blocked more Washington shots than they took at goal (38, only 16 of which ended up as shots on goal).

Clutch shooters -- San Jose's Joe Pavelski certainly picks the right time to score his playoff goals. Pavelski has 13 postseason goals, including five in this year's first round and two more Thursday -- and six of the 13 (three this year) have been game-winners. Pavelski also had the sixth-attacker goal that sent Game 2 of the Sharks' first-round series against Colorado into overtime; San Jose won the game to even the series.

Miroslav Satan, signed by Boston as a free agent in January, had the game-winner in two of the Bruins' four victories in its first-round upset of Buffalo -- including the one that proved to be the series-winner in Game 6. Amazingly, that matched his entire career total of playoff game-winners before this year. Satan had 16 playoff goals before 2010 -- but hadn't had a game-winner since 1999. He had the other in 1998. Both came for Buffalo, the team he helped eliminate this year.

Bad changes -- One thing the eight teams still in the playoffs might want to spend some time working on is their line changes. There were 21 bench minors assessed in the opening round for too many men on the ice, as opposed to just 17 such penalties in all of last year's playoffs. A too many men penalty might not sound like a big deal, but consider this: There were three power-play goals scored in overtime during the first round -- and two of them came after a team was penalized for having an extra man on the ice.
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