Is Home Ice Advantage in the Playoffs Really That Much of an Advantage?

↵With the collapse of the Capitals punctuating the first round of the NHL playoffs, it has seemed like an inordinate amount of lower seeds were winning first and second round series in the last few years. Theoretically, having a higher seed would give you home ice advantage in a playoff series and, thus, a better chance of winning the series. Unless, of course, home ice isn't really an advantage at all. ↵

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↵This season, The Canadiens, Bruins, Flyers and Red Wings all won series they were projected, by seeding, to lose. So is this an anomaly, or does it happen a lot? It turns out, it's common, but not as common as the higher seed winning the series. ↵

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↵Of the 15 playoff series in 2009, six of them were won by the lower seed. That being said, just two of the eight first-round match-ups went to the lower seed, while three of the four second-round match-ups were won by the lower seed. In 2008, the lower seed won half (six of twelve) of the first and second round series before the higher seeds prevailed in both the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Finals. In 2007, only three of the first or second-round match-ups were won by the lower seed. In that year however, both Conference Finals were won by lower seeds. Back in 2006, the Western Conference was chaos, with every lower seed winning in the first round. In total, six of the 12 first and second-round match-ups went to the lower seed. In 2005, well, hockey didn't exist yet, right? ↵

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↵Again, while it seems like a lot of lower seeds win in the NHL playoffs, it has still been far less than half, with the bulk of those upsets coming in the first two rounds – except in 2006, of course, when the eight-seed Edmonton Oilers got to the Stanley Cup Finals. ↵

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↵But when you look more closely at this season, another stat sticks out. In the eight series so far this post season, home teams are just 22-27 in the 49 games played. In fact, there were only two series where the home team won more games than the road team. In the Bruins-Sabres series, the home team won five of six games, while in the Flyers-Devils series, the home team took three of five. ↵

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↵In three Western Conference series – Blackhawks-Predators, Canucks-Kings and Sharks-Avalanche – the home and road teams each won three games. In the remaining three series, however, the road team dominated. In the aforementioned Caps-Habs series, the home team went 2-5 in the seven games, which is exactly what happened in the series between the Red Wings and the Coyotes. The Penguins and Senators actually produced a worse record for the home team, with just one of the six games going to the team with last change and all the fans on its side. ↵

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↵I asked Greg Wyshynski of Puck Daddy for some insight, to see if this was something that should be worrysome for home teams or just some random statistical anomaly. Okay, I'll be honest, I asked him because I didn't want to spend the time to do this and then have hockey people rip it to shreds. Either way, he thinks there's merit(!), offering: ↵

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↵⇥I think there's merit to it for one reason: Defense wins championships, and in the playoffs it's sometimes easier to hold the fort for 10 minutes, score and then control tempo as the home team tries to fire it up. The Habs did that in the last two wins in DC. ↵
↵So there you have it. Oh, and one last stat for good measure while we're here. Some people say that the only real advantage in a seven game series is to have the deciding game at home. So, looking at game seven, the road team won both so far this season. And in the last five years, the home team is 7-8 in game sevens, with a 4-7 record since 2008. Kinda gives new meaning to the team "win or go home" doesn't it?↵

This post originally appeared on the Sporting Blog. For more, see The Sporting Blog Archives.

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