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.

PHT Morning Skate: Stevens sees similarities between the Wild and those great Devils teams

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–In a Q & A with NHL.com, Minnesota assistant coach Scott Stevens says this year’s edition of the Wild reminds him of the stingy Devils teams he played on. “It reminds me very much of the Devils in how we play. We definitely love to protect the middle of the ice. We might give up a few more shots, but we give up a lot of those perimeter shots and hopefully our goaltenders know where the shots are coming from,” said Stevens. (NHL.com)

–Maple Leafs rookie Auston Matthews has shown that he’s got the hockey thing down, but his “Call of Duty” game has come a long way, according to teammate Mitch Marner. (BarDown)

–Many expect the Canadiens to try to land a top two center between now and the trade deadline, but in an interview with TSN 690 radio, GM Marc Bergevin says “you can never have too many defensemen.” If you listen to Bergevin, it sure sounds like he wants to add a mobile defender to play with Shea Weber. (TSN 690)

–The Chicago Blackhawks got some solid production from Vinne Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Tanner Kero in last night’s win over the Avalanche. You can watch the highlights from that game by clicking the video at the top of the page.

–How much would you pay for a young NHL superstar’s game worn jersey? The jersey Auston Matthews wore during the first period of the Centennial Classic sold for an incredible amount of money. (Yahoo)

–Will we see Patrik Elias return to the New Jersey Devils this season? The 40-year-old underwent cartilage replacement surgery on his knee during the off-season, but he doesn’t seem willing to close the door on his NHL career just yet. Elias wants to make a final decision on his playing career by next month. (USA Today)

–Going through a scoring slump is never fun, but going through a scoring slump when you’re the captain of the Montreal Canadiens might be one of the more unbearable things in professional hockey. Max Pacioretty was able to overcome a slow start thanks to some big-picture thinking. “At the end of the day, look at the life we have, look where we’re playing. I love playing here so much, and the fact I’m able to be the captain here, it sounds cheesy, but what’s better in life right now? I’ve got a family, I’ve got an awesome team, I’m the captain of the best franchise in the world,” said Pacioretty. (NHL.com)

Lonnie Cameron, hockey-tough linesman, shakes off puck to head (Video)

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Talking about hockey toughness is pretty much a trope at this point, yet there are still moments that impress even the cynical among us.

Linesman Lonnie Cameron accomplished that for many on Tuesday, as he returned to the Nashville Predators – Vancouver Canucks game despite taking a puck to the head in a scary moment.

Judging by the Twitter feed of Brooks Bratten from the Predators’ website, Cameron missed mere minutes of time.

So, yeah, it seems like Cameron qualifies as “hockey tough.”

As far as the game itself went, the Canucks beat the Predators 1-0 thanks to Henrik Sedin‘s goal (his 999th point) and Ryan Miller‘s 30-save shutout.

Is this more than just a slump for Henrik Lundqvist?

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People have been wondering for years if Henrik Lundqvist would finally fall off track and, you know, look human. After the New York Rangers’ zany 7-6 loss to the Dallas Stars, those rumblings are probably getting a little louder.

Don’t expect the Rangers to throw their star goalie under the bus, though, especially after a wide-open game like Tuesday’s goal-filled game at Madison Square Garden.

In fact, Rangers head coach Alain Vigneault is already penciling Lundqvist in for Thursday’s game against the rising Toronto Maple Leafs.

“He’s going to play, he’s going to try real hard, and we’re going to try to play better in front of him,” Vigneault said, according to the New York Post’s Brett Cyrgalis. “This is a team.”

Lundqvist, meanwhile, said about what you’d expect:

Naturally, Lundqvist and plenty of other Rangers threw the word embarrassing around quite a bit to describe this game, or at least the first 40 minutes. It’s just that no one’s really raking Lundqvist over the coals.

Is this time different?

Again, Lundqvist is no stranger to struggles, even if he struggles less often than just about any franchise goalie in recent memory.

Still, the sample size is getting large enough for this stretch to be a concern for the 34-year-old netminder.

While goal support and stretches of good play open the door for a respectable 18-12-1 record, Lundqvist’s allowing almost three goals per game (2.89 GAA) and has a backup-level .902 save percentage this season. And that’s over 32 games.

Things get even uglier if you focus on more recent events.

He’s allowed 20 goals in his past four starts, including allowing 12 tallies over four periods during the past two games. Lundqvist has a putrid .841 save percentage in January after producing great work in November (.925 save percentage in 11 games) and nice numbers in December (.915 in eight games).

Lundqvist has given up four goals or more on nine different occasions since Nov. 23.

In other words, there are a lot of different ways in which he’s struggling:

Is this a matter of Lundqvist regaining his focus or is “The King” finally abdicating his throne?

The Rangers are going to let him try to work through this. Otherwise, they might just need to hope that this is an off-year and *gulp* at least consider how far (an eventually healthy?) Antti Raanta could take them.

Supporting cast rallies Blackhawks in win against Avalanche

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For much of the season, the Colorado Avalanche’s biggest names have let them down while many believe that the Chicago Blackhawks are getting it done despite a mediocre supporting cast.

On Tuesday, the script was essentially flipped. The Avs’ stars were productive, yet so were lesser-known Chicago forwards like Tanner Kero and Vinne Hinostroza.

The most important narrative stayed the same, however, as the Blackhawks found a way to get by the Avalanche in a 6-4 decision.

The Blackhawks took a 2-1 lead into the second period, but the Avs put together one of their best stretches of this lousy season. Blake Comeau tied it up, Matt Nieto scored his first goal with Colorado and then Matt Duchene answered Chicago’s only goal of the second period (by Kero) to give the Avalanche a 4-3 edge.

The Avalanche doubled Chicago’s shots on goal in the second period, generating an 8-4 edge. It felt like a rare moment where Colorado’s talent actually flexed its collective muscles.

Then the Blackhawks turned it on in the third, generating a 12-5 shot edge of their own and finding a way to win.

Hinostroza ended up making the biggest difference, scoring the tying and game-winning goals before Kero iced it with an empty-netter thanks to an unselfish pass by Jonathan Toews.

(It’s not to say that Chicago’s big names outright slept through this game, either. Toews got that assist and Marian Hossa made a bunch of plays to help make life easier for Hinostroza and Kero.)

This wasn’t always pretty, but the Blackhawks are doing enough to get points night after night. On some nights, that’s the real difference between a contender like Chicago and a languishing squad like Colorado.