NHL Hockey Playoff Picks

Home Ice Advantage in the NHL Playoffs

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Is there such a thing as a home ice advantage during the Stanley Cup Playoffs? Looking at the results of the first two rounds, you have to say that, for the most part, the answer is “no”

During the NHL post season, the arenas are packed and usually jumping. In many ways, the setting for hockey mimics that of basketball, a sport that most agree carries a decided home court edge. However in hockey, unlike basketball, there is the distinct division created by the boards and the glass. These two elements, separating the fans from the action, can reduce fan involvement and influence.

So when is home ice advantage really important and how can we relate that into our NHL playoff handicapping? It becomes a factor in the playoffs when certain things are in place. First, the teams need to be evenly or closely matched. Then a strong fan base can certainly help the home team in terms of energy, focus and drive. However, the home ice advantage is nullified by spectator indifference. How can there possible be any advantage to being at home if you don’t feel welcome and wanted?

How can you tell if being the home team is going to affect the outcome of a series? Along with the two guidelines above, you’ll get a good idea after the first three games. If the home team wins the first two and then, after changing venues, the new home team wins, chances are the trend will continue. This is especially true when most of the games are close.

To help determine the intangible of home ice do some research on the team’s regular season attendance and their connection to the community. If a club has had great attendance during the regular season and seems to have a solid connection with its fans, chances are home ice will give them a small edge. One place to start looking for this evidence is on the team’s website, where you’ll find information in both of these areas.

Also, check out their one goal and OT home wins and losses; these stats may reveal a trend. Travel can also be a factor. A team having to fly a long distance from home will, even with today’s quick flights, often be fatigued and can be a great go against and warrant a playoff pick if the bookmakers price is right. Finally, as clubs get deeper into the playoffs, they tend to be more evenly matched and so being at home means a lot more.

Thus far the primary example of a home ice advantage can be seen in the San Jose-Edmonton series. After four games, the series is tied with home teams always winning. The Sharks and the Oilers are similar and closely matched, with both riding a late season surge.

Should you bet the home team in the rest of that series? That depends on whether you believe that an intangible can actually affect a game. If so go for it. But before you do that, make sure nothing significant has changed for either team since their last game. Always bet on the complete picture and never on one element of the contest.

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