Tampa Bay Lightning v Boston Bruins - Game Five

Could home ice advantage tilt things in the Boston Bruins’ favor?

When it comes to professional sports, it’s often difficult to accurately gauge the impact of home field advantage. That’s true to some extent with the NHL, but there are some tangible advantages to go with superficial or imaginary ones (such as loud fans cheering you on … and maybe intimidating officials into making calls they wouldn’t normally make?).

The biggest advantage is that the home coach receives the last line change. That might be exceedingly relevant in the face of Alex Burrows’ overtime game-winner in Game 2; as the Vancouver Province points out, Andrew Ference probably wouldn’t have been on the ice if Claude Julien was certain he would get the matchup he wanted. The Boston Bruins can get the matchups they want more often in Games 3 and 4, which might be a big difference-maker in a series that has been skin-tight so far.

Home team centers also have an advantage in the faceoff circle (and not just because coaches can pick and choose which centers face off against each other). The away center must place his stick on the ice first before the puck drops, giving the home center a slightly better chance to win. Take a quick look at how the major faceoff men on both teams have done in home and away games during the playoffs.

Boston’s faceoff guys (minimum 150 FO’s taken)

Patrice Bergeron at home: 130-62 (67.7 percent); away: 123-92 (57.2 percent)
David Krejci at home: 91-80 (53.2 percent); away: 75-75 (50 percent)
Chris Kelly at home: 48-53 (47.5 percent); away: 34-48 (41.5 percent)
Note: Of the Bruins who took at least 100 faceoffs in the playoffs, Rich Peverley is the only center with a better road winning percentage (54.2) than at home (52.5).

Vancouver’s faceoff guys (minimum 150 FO’s taken)

Ryan Kesler at home: 159-125 (56 percent); away: 117-104 (52.9 percent)
Henrik Sedin at home: 110-142 (43.6 percent); away: 78-84 (48.2 percent)
Maxim Lapierre at home: 53-62 (46.1 percent); away: 48-41 (53.9 percent)

As you can see, Boston centers see a dramatic improvement in their faceoff winning abilities … yet the Canucks are inexplicably better in the faceoff circle on the road. It’s probably worth mentioning that Vancouver has played five more home than road games so far, so that sample size difference might explain the discrepancy a bit.

Either way, home ice advantage might help the Bruins gain more puck control and thus alleviate some (but not all) of their decision-making ills.

Home and road records in regular season and playoffs

Boston in the regular season: Home: 22-13-6; Road: 24-12-5
Boston in the playoffs: Home: 7-3; Road: 5-5

Vancouver in the regular season: Home: 27-9-5; Road: 27-10-4
Vancouver in the playoffs: Home: 9-3; Road: 5-3

As you can see, both teams were pretty balanced at home and on the road in the regular season but have been significantly stronger at home in the postseason. (The Bruins came into the finals with a 5-3 road record while the Canucks came in 7-3 at home, obviously.)

It makes sense that each squad leans on the advantages of playing at home a bit more in the playoffs. With more concern for matchups (and time to break down video to exploit those matchups) in a best-of-seven series, the last change and faceoff advantages make a difference. Perhaps the teams are also a little less nervous about putting on a good show in front of their fans in the postseason as well, realizing that crowds are delighted by wins more than anything else during this time of year.

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So, will these advantages add up to a win or two for Boston in the next two contests? The games have been awfully close so far, but if the Bruins fall behind in Game 3, they might worry about their fans turning on them. Either way, you can find out what happens by watching the game tonight on Versus at 8 p.m. ET.

Sharks scratch Flames’ big lead, Calgary wins anyway

Calgary Flames' Mikael Backlund (11) chases down the puck against San Jose Sharks' Tomas Hertl (48) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in San Jose, Calif., Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. (AP Photo/Tony Avelar)
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If you turned off Thursday’s Calgary Flames – San Jose Sharks game early, you’ll probably be stunned to see that Calgary won 6-5 via a shootout.

For instance:

  • A Sharks fan may have bitterly called it a night when Calgary went up 4-1.
  • Conversely, a Flames devotee might have retired after San Jose took a 5-4 lead, possibly with a broken remote.

The Flames only trailed for about two minutes before scoring the last “real” goal of the game, eventually taking their third straight win thanks to a shootout triumph.

It’s been a strange ride for Calgary, with its most recent win happening after Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Lance Bouma were punished with a healthy scratch. As strange as this game was, the “charity point” can leave both teams looking through a lot of film, yet with something gained as well.

Ultimately, the message may very well be: don’t sleep on these teams.

(In less positive news, Karri Ramo is injured, and it doesn’t look good.

Jonas Hiller closing out the game on a hot streak could be pretty important if Ramo’s out for some time.)

By winning fifth straight, Caps extend Wild’s slump to seven losses

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ST. PAUL, Minn. — Alex Ovechkin scored three times in the second period for his 14th career hat trick, and the Washington Capitals beat the Minnesota Wild 4-3 on Thursday night.

Ovechkin, who leads the league with 34 goals, has 13 in his past 13 games. Nicklas Backstrom had three assists and Jason Chimera added an empty-netter for Washington, which improved to a league-best 20-5-2 on the road.

Braden Holtby made 33 saves for the Capitals, who won their fifth consecutive game and became the first team to reach 40 victories this season.

Charlie Coyle, Ryan Suter and Mikael Granlund scored for the Wild, but Minnesota lost for the 12th time in its past 13 games (1-10-2). Devan Dubnyk made 29 saves for the Wild, who have lost seven in a row at home (0-4-3).

Ovechkin’s third goal, which deflected off both the post and the back of Dubnyk into the net, was upheld following a coach’s challenge. Wild coach Mike Yeo challenged that the puck had left the zone for offsides, but the call stood after a review showed that Backstrom stopped the puck before it crossed the blue line.

The goal gave Ovechkin his first hat trick since he scored four goals against Tampa Bay on Dec. 10, 2013.

It wasn’t the only fortunate bounce for Ovechkin on the night, and the five-time 50-goal scorer capitalized on each opportunity.

A shot from T.J. Oshie deflected off of Minnesota forward Zach Parise across the ice right to Ovechkin in the left faceoff circle and Ovechkin quickly snapped off a shot to beat Dubnyk, who couldn’t get across the crease to get into position. Three minutes later, Ovechkin scored on the power play when a point shot bounced off the end boards right to Ovechkin in front of the net.

The tally provided some relief for the Capitals’ surprisingly ineffective power play. Washington had one power play in its previous six games, an empty-netter for the only goal in its previous 20 power-play chances. The Capitals were 1 of 5 on the power play on Thursday.

Coyle scored for the fifth time in eight games in the second, but second periods have doomed the Wild during their slump. Minnesota has been outscored 13-3 in the period in five straight losses.

Suter scored his sixth goal of the season on the power play in the third as Minnesota went 1 of 5 with the man advantage.

NOTES: Washington C Evgeny Kuznetsov left in the third period after he was hit in the face by the stick of Mikael Granlund off a faceoff. … Backstrom has 20 points in his last 17 games. … Minnesota D Jared Spurgeon missed his second straight game with an unspecified deep bruise. Spurgeon has returned to practice, but was held out again. … Holtby is 27-1-3 in his last 31 games with two shutouts, a 2.10 goals-against average and .927 save percentage.

Watch the Blackhawks’ Patrick Sharp tribute video

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Over the years, the Chicago Blackhawks have been forced to let some important players leave to keep their core together, which ultimately meant parting ways with Patrick Sharp.

The talented winger now wears a Dallas Stars jersey, so Blackhawks fans must face the reality of watching Sharp ply his trade for a formidable Central Division opponent.

Even if that might feel awkward, Blackhawks fans gave Sharp (and Johnny Oduya) a warm reception in Chicago on Thursday.

CSNChicago.com provides video of that ovation, which you can see in the clip above.

The Stars currently lead the Blackhawks 4-2, thanks in large part to Patrick … Eaves.

Ovechkin’s 14th career hat trick helps him make more history

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Death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Maurice Richard Trophy.

OK, the third thing on that list isn’t technically inevitable. It just feels that way lately in the NHL.

It’s unclear if the Washington Capitals can hold on against the Minnesota Wild, but we know for certain that Ovechkin already has a hat trick, the 14th of his high-scoring career.

(He also passed Jean Beliveau for 39th all-time in goals with his 509th, as NHL.com notes.)

This propels Ovechkin to the goals lead as of this writing, as he already has 34. As impressive as Patrick Kane has been, No. 8 is heating up, and may just edge No. 88 if Ovechkin can remain healthy.

One has to feel a little sympathy for the struggling Wild. They played well but lost against the Dallas Stars earlier this week and now must deal with Ovechkin and the just-as-hot Capitals.

Update: Minnesota managed three goals, but it wasn’t enough, as Washington got the edge 4-3.