So far, the Stanley Cup finals has been a “homer” series. That’s a term sports writers use when the home team wins every game. Chicago, in particular, was an amazing 7-1 on the road before the Cup finals. Conversely, the Flyers are a league-best 9-1 – including a seven game winning streak – at the Wachovia Center. Apparently, Philly’s home ice dominance trumped Chicago’s road savvy.
The question is: why, exactly, are these two teams playing so much better thanks to home cooking? Let me break down some of the possibilities, analyzing why some make sense and some fail.
Coincidence and context
This might be the top point, even if it’s the least satisfying. Every game is different and, after all, fans aren’t the ones who are skating so how much of an impact can home ice advantage really have? This is a small sample of games, so you cannot exactly draw too many conclusions from five games.
Also, think about one of those classic standbys: “the sense of urgency.” Philadelphia had a lot more to lose in Game 3 and Game 4, which showed in the considerable difference in effort between the two teams. Meanwhile, Chicago would have dropped three games in a row, so winning Game 5 was – on some level – more important for them than it was for the Flyers.
Michael Leighton at his best
Now, I’m not sure why, but Leighton is an incredible 6-0 so far at home. Is the former member of the Carolina Hurricanes sensitive to heckling? I’m not certain, but either way he’s been outstanding in Philly and ordinary-to-bad in Montreal or Chicago. Leighton is 6-0 with three shutouts, a 1.48 GAA and a 94.9 save percentage at the Wachovia Center.
Let’s take a look at some of the more “nuts and bolts” pluses of being the home team (plus more analysis) after the jump.
The final change
Home teams receive a chance to make the final line change, which might be a bigger factor now that Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks adjusted their combos so well. Chris Pronger is the biggest impact player in this series, so the fact that the Flyers can make sure he’s on the ice at the right times in Philly could be a big deal.
Players often say that it doesn’t matter who is on the ice, but I think matchups are very relevant. That being said, it’s still only a subtle tactical advantage – especially since splitting up Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews should keep one of both of them away from Pronger at least some of the time.
Aside from getting the last change, the other inherent advantage with playing at home is that the home team center benefits from a momentum advantage during faceoffs.
I studied the games and noticed that it probably didn’t make much of a mark on faceoffs won vs. lost. The Blackhawks won more than they lost in the circle in four out of five games in this series, although the one Flyers’ faceoff advantage did come when they were at home.
Rabid fans, conclusion
Perhaps the biggest advantage is the most obvious one, then: each city can pack in more than 20,000 screaming lunatics. While the larger crowds in Chicago helped them go a little louder than the gang in Philly, both produce ear-splitting noise that must fluster their opponents.
Overall, it seems as if the home ice disparity is a result of a combination of factors. Some of them seem pretty subjective (fans, context), some are minimal (faceoff advantages) and others could go either way (the final change). Either way, the teams seem – at times – to be so close that maybe a slight gust of wind can change the course of each contest.
For a least one more game, the Flyers hope that the home cooking trend continues – whether it’s justified by reason or not.