Monday, June 8, 2009

The Secret to Playoff Wins? Location, Location, Location

The Red Wings dramatically re-shifted the series momentum with a game 5 shut out win - stopping the 2 game Pittsburgh winning streak and taking control of the series. Or did they?

When our Rangers last played these Penguins, late in the playoff drive, near the end of the season they beat us. Part of the reason was that we played them in Pittsburgh where the Penguins are allowed the last line change. At the time we had gotten Mike Sauer from our Hartford affiliate to fill in temporarily on defense. Pittsburgh waited for the rookie Sauer to get on the ice and countered with Malkin and Crosby. The result was a couple of quick goals, a minus 2 for Mike in just 4 shifts and two minutes of ice time - and a quick return for the young defenseman from whence he came (the minors)

Had we played them at the Garden, we would have matched Sauer against Pittsburgh's second or third line - most probably with very different results. But that's how the NHL works. There is a real, tangible home ice advantage.

It's more than football - where the fans can make it hard for the opposing team to hear themselves call plays in the huddle. It's more than the last ups in baseball. In hockey at every play stoppage the home coach can look at the opposing line up and pick the guys he thinks will do the best against them. In the Stanley Cup finals, the Penguins are playing the Red Wings, not the Rangers, but the idea is the same. At home the 'Guins can match up Crosby and Malkin against whichever defenders they choose. In Detroit the Red Wings get to put their best guys on the Penguin offensive stars whenever they want to.

Now - this only works coming off of play stoppages. When the clock is running you can freely substitute on the fly. And if you hate a match up you can always short shift - pull your guys off the ice early and send out the players you want. But still, every time play stops the home coach gets to pick his lines last.

And in this year's Stanley Cup finals - despite all the talk of momentum shifts, all the analysis of the team's relative ages and rest time between games, despite all the pundits and prognosticators - all we have seen is the home ice team win all five games.

And that has delivered us to a 3-2 Red Wing lead after 5 games. Game five was a 5-0 rout, and the Penguins look dead and finished.

Of course, that's exactly how they looked after game 2. But then they got on home ice won two straight and suddenly the Penguins looked like the team with momentum.

Until game five.

What we're saying here is:

(1) All these dramatic momentum shifts in the finals are just the home team doing what the home team usually does - win. And,
(2) The Penguins may look dead now - but they've looked dead before - just last week actually - and proved us wrong.

Of course I picked the Red Wings in six - which is looking very smart right now. But you can't ignore that five game winning streak - for the home team. We'll see how that streak fares on Tuesday.

1 comment:

  1. thanks