Sports. Honestly. Since 2011

Game 1 and 2: The True Home-Ice Advantage

The NHL postseason has finally begun and what a glorious time it is. Throughout the season the races for home ice advantage have been fiercely contested like they always are. However, what is the benefit of home ice advantage? A lot will say it’s to have game 7 being played at home if the series reaches that point. Yet, when the series reaches that point, another cliché is often used. Namely that it’s a fifty/fifty game with an equal chance for both teams to make it into the next stage of the playoff. This begs the question of which is more correct, and if the latter is correct, where is the true home-ice advantage? Through looking into every single playoff series since 2010, I have looked at how and in what manner teams have advanced in the playoff.

The reason it starts in 2010 and not earlier is since prior to the modernized game, there was a legit home ice advantage every single time. Back when traveling, hotels, transportation, and facilities weren’t up to the standard we know today. Back then going away could be far from easy and would be time-consuming and make sleep harder to get. Today most of this has been dealt with and the players got the best conditions to perform. Both at home and on the road. Making the home-ice advantage far less and a lot more relevant when looking at the current 2023 NHL postseason. Especially as the most important games are happing in the first two games of each series.

Setting the Tone of the Series

With the start of the NHL and with all eyes on the beginning of the sixteen teams, so begins the most critical part of the series for both home and away teams. According to the statistics since 2010 (excluding the 2020 playoff played in the covid bubbles and matchups with Canadian teams from the 2021 playoff), it’s the first two games of the series where a lot will be decided. Since 2010 the home teams, can successfully defend home ice and took the first two games at home has gone on to win 80% of the team. Only 11 times out of 55 attempts since 2010, has a team managed to come back from 2-0 down in a series as the lower seed. One of these however was the 2011 Boston Bruins, who did this in the Stanley Cup Final against the Vancouver Canucks.

On the other hand, losing both as the home team is a disaster for the playoff dreams. Only 9.4% of the time since does a team manage to recover after dropping both the first two games in the series at home. Or said in a different way, it has only happened three times since 2010 out of 32 attempts.

Therefore the team with home ice needs to start on time and here the crowd really can help in either game one or two. Either to put pressure on the other team and ref or motivate the team to as a minimum split the series. The most common outcome after the first two games with 91 series going into game three all tied up since 2010. A split of the first two games statistically gives the higher seed a 52.7 chance of advancing and the lower seed a 47.8% of causing the upset.

The Myth of Game 7 Advantage

As mentioned in the introduction, many people will often place home-ice advantage for game 7. Something that might have been true prior but isn’t quite as true any longer. Excluding the 2021 Northern Division series between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, there have been 57 series that have gone to game 7 since 2010. 30 of them have ended in a home win, with 27 going to the road team. Making the home ice have a tiny advantage in game 7’s with 52.6% of the wins.

A minuscule amount and in total the home ice time only gets a 5.2% advantage. This however is an advantage for the home team, and in a game often decided by inches, it’s something every coach, player, and fan will take. Even if it’s far from as much as some make it out to be.

What Makes the Difference in Game 7?

So, what is it that makes the home-ice advantage during a game? One of the primary the ability to change players last before a faceoff for the home team. This does give the ability for the coaches to get some favorable matchups. An ability that often in those high-pressure moments can make or break a team. The last thing you want is to have to face the very best of the best with the fourth line or the young and inexperienced kids. Especially when the pressure is at its highest in a tie game in the third period. Getting the last picks of lines to send on the ice is the last true home-ice advantage of game 7.

Another factor is the fans. They are always an unknown during the playoff and it’s impossible to measure the importance of the sixth man in the crowd. Despite it being hard to measure the worth of the fans, it’s undeniable that they matter. At the start of the game, they can give a needed boost to the home team and apply pressure on the refs and opponents from the very first whistle. Something that can give the last edge needed to win. However, if the game starts getting tense or the away team takes the lead, the fans might turn from an advantage to added pressure. Nothing far from all players can handle. That way the fans can turn from an advantage to a disadvantage as the game progresses.

Does Experience Matter?

The last way to look at game 7’s and where teams can find the margins needed to advance is through experience. Especially experience in game 7 situations. According to the numbers and research that went into this article, it ended up showing that it once again was a near-even split with the same odds as for home and away in game 7. The experienced team whether it was home or away would win 52.6% of the time. The same odds home teams have for game 7’s.

A shocking coincidence and one that might be more telling as to how special game 7 are in hockey. With all the experience, benefits of being at home, and other factors it still doesn’t give more than a 5.2% advantage to win. Considering how much pressure there is on the players, it would have been easy to believe that having been in those situations would give them the edge, but statistically, it’s far from the case.

The best way to win a game 7 might be to avoid getting the series that far. Preferably by finding a way to take advantage of the true home-ice advantage of the playoff. Game one and two.

Main Photo: Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports


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