Teams give it all they've got to get home-ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. This spring, home ice has actually been an advantage worth having.
Home teams won 30 of the 47 games played in this year's conference quarterfinals – a huge turnaround from their 18-30 record in the first round last year. But that was just a warm-up for the second round, in which home teams went 20-4, up from 14-7 last year and the most wins by home teams in the conference semifinals under the current playoff format.
Entering the conference finals on Saturday, home teams are 50-21, a .704 winning percentage that's light years ahead of last year's figure of .453 (39-47) and still well ahead of the .612 percentage in 1993, the best by home teams in the past 20 years. If home teams lost every game in the next two rounds, those 50 wins would still be more than they managed in any of the past three years; home teams were 50-35 in 2007-08 and 2008-09. Home teams haven't won more than 50 games in one playoff season since they were 52-37 in 2004.
Working overtime – The domination by home teams this spring has extended past regulation.
When Brent Seabrook scored the OT winner for Chicago against Detroit on Wednesday, it marked the 16th time in 22 overtime games this spring that the home team sent its fans home happy. In contrast, home teams went 9-16 last year and 9-13 in 2011 in extra time. They haven't won more than half of the playoff overtime games played since going 11-7 in 2010.
This year's record includes a perfect 5-0 mark in the conference semifinals and a 2-0 record in Game 7s – home teams now have won 19 of the 37 Game 7s that went past regulation.
Best coast – There had to be disappointment in Southern California when the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Detroit Red Wings 2-1 in overtime to win Game 7 of their Western Conference Semifinals series. Not only do the Los Angeles Kings now have to beat the Presidents' Trophy-winning Blackhawks to get back to the Stanley Cup Final, they're going to have to win at least once away from home to do it.
Unlike last spring, when the Kings went 6-3 at home but 10-1 away from Staples Center and set a playoff record by winning their first 10 road playoff games, L.A. has been dreadful on the road but flawless at home this year. Los Angeles has lost five of its six road games this spring, all of them by the same score – 2-1. Their only road victory was a 3-2 overtime win against the St. Louis Blues in Game 5 of the opening round – the only one of their six away games in which they scored more than one goal.
But it's been an entirely different story this spring at Staples Center, where not only are the Kings unbeaten, they're almost impossible to score on. L.A. went 3-0 against St. Louis and 4-0 against the San Jose Sharks in the first two rounds while outscoring their opponents 18-8. Not getting the extra home game could be the difference between a chance to become the first repeat Cup winner in 15 years or an early summer.
Will Jon be too Quick? – Conn Smythe Trophy winner Jonathan Quick of the Kings had a tough season against the Blackhawks – he went 1-2-0 and allowed 12 goals on just 84 shots, a save percentage of .857. But L.A. and Chicago haven't seen each other since March 25 (a 5-4 win by the visiting Kings at United Center), and the Quick the Blackhawks will see in the Western Conference Final looks a lot different from the one they faced during the regular season.
Quick won the Conn Smythe last year with one of the great playoff seasons by any goaltender in NHL history, going16-4 with a 1.41 goals-against average, a .946 save percentage and three shutouts. After experiencing some ups and downs during the regular season, Quick's trophy-winning form is back this spring.
Through two rounds, Quick has already matched last spring's playoff-leading shutout total. He's also No. 1 in GAA (1.50) and save percentage (.948). Quick has allowed 20 goals on 382 shots in more than 799 minutes of ice time. Not that Chicago's Corey Crawford is a slouch – he has a 1.70 GAA and .938 GAA.
The Kings' problems on the road aren't Quick's fault, either. He has allowed exactly two goals in all six of their road games, but his team has scored a total of only eight tallies. They've notched only 18 in seven home games (2.57 per game), but Quick's GAA at Staples Center is 1.14 and his save percentage is .958. All three of his shutouts have come at home.
Quick and the Kings have also not allowed more than three goals in a game in their 33 games during the last two playoff seasons. That's the longest such streak in playoff history.
Power's out – One thing the Kings will have to find a way to do is solve the Blackhawks' penalty-killers, who've been next-to-perfect this spring.
Chicago's PK was a perfect 17-for-17 in the opening round against the Minnesota Wild and surrendered just one power-play goal in 24 tries to Detroit in the second round. That's 1-for-41 through 12 games.
And the Blackhawks' penalty-killers have scored a shorthanded goal, meaning that they've allowed a net of zero goals through two rounds. Chicago is also a perfect 25-for-25 in killing penalties in seven games at United Center.
The Kings are seventh on the power play at an even 20.0 percent (7-for-35).
Power's on – The Boston Bruins' penalty-killers will have to be front and center for their team to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final.
Pittsburgh enters the third round with the most power-play goals and best percentage this spring. The Penguins are 13-for-46, a 28.3 percent success rate. Boston's penalty-killers are eighth at 81.1 percent (7-for-37) through two rounds.