One of the many things that make the NHL playoffs so great are the rare marathon games – the games that stretch into two, three or even more overtime periods. By the end of those games you can see that the guys can barely stand up, but they aren’t willing to give an inch. It’s like the last round of a great boxing match when both guys are totally spent, but they both want to score the last few points. These games are a surefire recipe for drama. There are few things in all of sports that are like it.
For handicappers, these brilliant bits of drama lead to a headache the next time out. Win or lose the teams probably have to play again in a day or two. Your job is to figure out how the teams are going to respond to the inevitable exhaustion, and if it’s going to give either team an edge. When you are trying to figure that out, here are six things to consider:
Age – This is one to consider, but not in the way that you might think. The general betting public is going to assume that a younger team is going to have an edge over an older one in a situation like this, and if the age difference between the teams is striking then they will bet accordingly. That’s a mistake. Older players may be hit harder by the strain of the game, but they also have likely been through it before so they know how to deal with it. Older players also tend to work harder on their nutrition and fitness because things don’t come as naturally for them anymore, so they could be better situated to deal with the wear and tear on their body that the situation creates. I’m not suggesting that the older team always has an edge – just that these situations aren’t always as clear cut as they might seem and so the public could easily misstep and create value for astute bettors.
Health – This is a far more important factor than the age of a team. It’s also a pretty straightforward one. If a team is beat up and hurting then they are going to struggle to bounce back from the abuse of a long game than a team that is as healthy as a team can be in the playoffs. The players who are hurt and out of action obviously aren’t significant here – just the ones who are playing at less than full strength.
Location – In some situations the location of the game could have a big impact on how teams deal with the marathon. The most obvious example would be if the game was played in Denver. A team that plays at sea level is going to struggle to play in Denver at the best of times, so by the end of five or six periods they will really be struggling to find their breath. That’s going to have far more of an impact on them than it is on the Avalanche – especially if the next game is also played at altitude.
Mental state – This is where you need to be a bit of an amateur psychologist. The team that wins is obviously going to feel better than the team that loses. You just need to figure out what lasting effect that will have. Will the winning team become complacent after the win and come out flat next time? Will the losing team feel sorry for themselves, or will they be motivated by the setback? The answer isn’t always as simple as it seems, but you can often figure it out reasonably well.
How they performed in similar situations – This can be tough because it’s not likely that the team has recently played a lot of five or six period games, so you can’t just look at that for a clue. Instead, you have to look at situations that are somewhat similar in terms of the physical and mental demands. For example, did they play three games in four days at some point, or did they have to endure a particularly brutal road trip.
Goaltending – The first question to consider here is if the team is going to come back with the same goalie – which is likely in the playoffs. If they are then you have to consider a couple of key factors – how much work they had to do in the overtime marathon, and how well they generally bounce back from particularly tough games. To find those tough games look for situations in which they faced a particularly high number of shots, and then came back to play in the next game.