Much has been made of the fact that the home team has won all five games to start the Stanley Cup Final. Fans and pundits argue it’s important to win games at home with built-in advantages like intimidating crowds and the ability to match lines. But there’s another trend at work in the 2011 playoffs that has been even stronger than home ice advantage: scoring the first goal of the game.
Just like the home team has won all five games in the series, the team that has scored first has also won all five games thus far. By scoring the first (and only) goal in Game 5, the Canucks improved to 11-2 (.846 winning percentage) in the postseason when scoring the first goal of the game. That’s an impressive statistic until it’s compared to the Bruins’ 10-1 record (.909 winning percentage) in the playoffs when scoring the first goal. The teams have combined for any amazing 21-3 record when capturing the early lead this postseason.
The only game the Bruins scored first and blew the lead was the memorable 3-goal meltdown in Game 4 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Aside from that historic collapse, Boston has been perfect. Boston scored the first goal of the game three times against the Habs in their first round series. They were 3-0. Again in the second round against the Flyers, the Bruins scored the first goal of the game three times; again they won all three games. Compare these stellar figures to the pedestrian 4-8 record when the opponent scores first. It’s clear the Bruins would like to get off to a quick start in Game 6.
On the other hand, the Canucks have been just as impressive. The Canucks scored first in Game 6 of their first round match-up against Chicago when Daniel Sedin scored two minutes into the game. Unfortunately for Vancouver, the Blackhawks were able to come back and force a Game 7. The only other time Vancouver scored the first goal and lost was in Game 2 against the Nashville Predators. Despite leading 1-0 for most of two periods, Ryan Suter scored with about a minute left and the Preds were able to cap the comeback in the second overtime.
The Canucks have scored the first goal of the game 11 other times this postseason. They’ve won all 11.
Both teams have proven they are incredibly difficult to beat once they jump out to an early lead. Part of the reason is because they both have goaltenders who are capable of shutting the opponent down on any given night. Another reason is both teams have the ability to play team defense with both their forwards and defenseman to shutdown their opponents. In fact, low scoring games have been nothing new for the Canucks. On three separate occasions the Canucks have scored the only goal of the game—winning 1-0 three separate times.
The Bruins will attempt to defend home-ice in Game 6. Much has been made of the fact that Boston outscored Vancouver 12-1 in Games 3 and 4. But just as important as protecting home ice will be watching to see who scores first. If history tells us anything, we’ll all be making plans to watch Game 7 on Wednesday if the Bruins can grab the early lead.
Then again, what if the Canucks score first? Well, then the Bruins better hope the home-ice advantage is all that it’s cracked up to be.