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NHL: In this year's play-offs there is no place like home

Contrary to past years, teams in this season's NHL play-offs have turned their home-ice into fortresses, writes Gregg Patton.

Jonathan Quick and his Los Angeles Kings teammates have been cooking at home in the play-offs.
Jonathan Quick and his Los Angeles Kings teammates have been cooking at home in the play-offs.

Home is a safe haven in most sports, but usually not in the NHL, especially not in the Stanley Cup play-offs. Hockey is the sport that notoriously ignores such advantage.

Until this year.

This post-season, home teams are winning 70 per cent of their games. That number has not been over 60 per cent in 20 years.

The home-ice advantage is even more pronounced in the second round, where the teams wearing the dark (home) jerseys are 15-3 (83 per cent).

San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan simply shrugged when asked why things are different this year, after his team lost Game 5 of their Western Conference semi-finals to Los Angeles Kings - making it 5-0 for the home teams in that series.

"I don't know," McLellan said, struggling with the new reality.

"I do know we're going back to our building [for Game 6] where we've been more efficient, made tape-to-tape passes, played better."

There are some obvious advantages to playing at home, even in hockey. During play stoppages, the home team makes the last line change, allowing a coach to get the matchups he prefers.

Then there is the noise.

"It makes a difference when you have 20,000 fans cheering for you instead of against you," Detroit Red Wings defender Jakub Kindl told USA Today.

Even so, those assists have not translated to home dominance in years past. Last spring, the defending champions the Kings won 10 consecutive road games during their run to the cup.

Overall, in the 2012 post-season, home teams won just 45 per cent of the time.

This year, the Kings are riding a 13-game winning streak at home, including six in the post-season.

Captain Dustin Brown said last year's road success may have taught his team a certain lesson.

To counter match-up disadvantages and crowd energy, he said, road teams employ fundamentals and a gritty mindset.

"Sometimes you get too fancy at home," he said after Game 5.

"Instead of doing the little things that you do on the road, you want to run and gun at home. It's a mentality, an attitude. It's the first year we've had it ... in our home building."

That may help explain the Kings streak, but this is new for everyone.

In his first four post-seasons as Pittsburgh Penguins coach, Dan Bylsma's teams were 0-6 at home when they had a chance to clinch a series. They were 6-2 in such games on the road.

"Just coincidence," said Penguins forward Matt Cooke.

Maybe.

But Friday night, Bylsma's Penguins finally clinched a play-off series in Pittsburgh.

It is an odd year, indeed.

 

sports@thenational.ae

 

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