Home teams have been the most dominant in the last two rounds of the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs, especially during the Finals.
Thus far we have given you NHL Playoff trends for the first two rounds, and the second round is about to wrap up when the Washington Capitals visiting the New York Rangers in the only Game 7 in this round on Saturday. Thus, we now conclude our three part series on playoff trends by giving you our angles for both the upcoming third round and also for the Stanley Cup Finals.
We have gone back and analyzed every round of the playoffs since the players strike wiped out the 2004-05 season, and the first thing you will notice will be the dominance of the home teams in the final two rounds. That may seem counterintuitive as the teams are closer in talent level at these late stages and you would think the better teams have a better chance of being able to win on the road.
Instead, the home ice advantage of the better teams has trumped the closeness of the talent level the past six playoffs seasons. While four of the last six Stanley Cup Champions have had the home ice advantage in the series, even in the series won by the two lower seeds (Boston Bruins last year, 2009 Pittsburgh Penguins), the home teams still won the first six games of the series before the lower seeds stole Game 7 on the road. We’ll have more on that in a bit.
The Western Conference Finals are already set as the third-seeded Phoenix Coyotes and the eighth seeded Los Angeles Kings commence play on Sunday. Despite Phoenix being the third seed, there were actually the two teams with the longest odds to win the West when these playoffs started, so there is guaranteed to be at least one Cinderella story in the finals this year.
There is even a chance that there can be two as the top-seeded Rangers in the East are the only team remaining that has a chance to protect a high seed, and that all changes if they lose Game 7 to the seventh-seeded Capitals. The winner of that game then gets another lower seed, the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils, in the Eastern Conference Finals.
But before making your NHL picks, here are the trends for the last two rounds from the last six playoff seasons beginning with the 2006 playoffs following the 2005-06 season. All of these results are based on the closing lines from Pinnacle Sports.
You will see that the home dominance has been most prevalent in the finals, but the home teams have done fairly well in the third round also, going 38-26, 59.4 percent for a profit of +3.46 if bet blindly the past six years. Home favorites have gone 36-22, +4.31 and higher seeded home teams are 23-13, +3.59.
Last year was par for the course in the third round as the home teams went 9-3, 75.0 percent for a nice +5.32 pick-up, and higher seeded home teams went 6-1, +4.51 with ironically the only higher seed to lose a third round home game being the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, the Boston Bruins.
How once we reach the Stanley Cup Finals, you can almost throw all handicapping out the window and just bet all the home teams, at least over the first six games. That is because all home teams are a riveting 29-9, +14.82 straight up the last six seasons, and all home favorites are 29-7, 80.6 percent, +16.83 units!
It is interesting that even though the finals are a matchup of the two conference champions, one team has always been a higher seed than the other the last six years as on no occasion did the exact same seed reach the finals from each league. We mention this because higher seeded home teams have gone 17-4, 81.0 percent for +9.00.
But wait, there’s more! We have left perhaps the greatest Stanley Cup Finals angle for last, as home teams have gone a perfect 18-0, +18.00 in the finals in Games 1 to 3 since the strike! For the record, home teams have gone 3-3, -1.10 in Game 4, 4-2, -0.79 in Game 5 and 3-2, +0.92 in Game 6. If the finals reach a Game 7, then some handicapping is more necessary as the road teams actually went 2-1 in deciding Game 7s the last six years.
Again, last year’s finals between the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks were typical as the home teams won the first six games before Boston won Game 7 on the road.
Third Round Conference Trends
If you are looking to buck all of that home ice dominance, your best chance to find winning non-home angles would be the Western Conference Finals where home teams are just 17-14 for a loss of -2.34. In fact, the road teams have produced a tiny profit of +1.05 despite being three games below .500.
To be fair, the home teams did well last season in the Western Finals between the Canucks and the San Jose Sharks, going 4-1, +2.94.
In the West, teams on streaks have tended to keep streaking, as teams coming off a win have gone 14-11, +3.02, and that has actually worked best on the road, where teams off a win are 5-4 but for +2.94 since 2006. Home teams coming off a win are up just a hair in the West at 9-7 for a scant +0.08.
This year’s Western Conference Finals has two streaking teams, as the Kings are coming off of a 4-0 sweep of the St. Louis Blues after losing just one game to the top-seeded Canucks in the first round, while the Coyotes are coming off a 4-1 series win over the Nashville Predators after losing two overtime games in the first round to the Chicago Blackhawks.
Both teams were underdogs in both previous series and it will be interesting to see if the streak pattern continues, as that would make the series shorter than many predict. Also, because the road teams have actually had a fighting chance in the West, the higher and lower seeds have split 3-3 as far as the overall series have gone, although the higher seeds have prevailed three of the last four years to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The Eastern Conference Finals have been truer to form the last six years with the home teams going 21-12, 63.6 percent for a good +5.80 units. Eastern Final home favorites are 20-10, +6.21 and higher seeded home teams are a blistering 14-5, +6.97. As you would expect, the higher seeds are 5-1 in last Eastern Final series overall and 5-0 in the last five, as the last lower seeded East team to advance to the finals was the Ottawa Senators the first year after the strike.
As mentioned, there is still a six-seed, a seven-seed and an eight-seed in action as of this writing. Believe it or not, while no six-seed has reached the Stanley Cup Finals in the last six seasons, a seven-seed did when the Philadelphia Flyers lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010 and an eight-seed did when the Edmonton Oilers extended the Carolina Hurricanes to seven games in 2006.
Here are the records of the five remaining seeds by round over the last six playoffs. Note that top seeds have a losing record in the third round while six-seeds have been abysmal.
1 – 11-15, -7.37
3 – 4-3, +0.55
6 – 2-12, -10.64
7 – 4-1, +3.22
8 – 5-5, +0.27
Stanley Cup Finals
1 – 7-6, -0.91
3 – 4-3, +1.28
7 – 2-4, -2.08
8 – 3-4, +0.08