Home is where the ‘L’ is? Home teams struggling in playoffs

PITTSBURGH — Having home ice is supposed to be an advantage in the NHL. So far in the 2018 playoffs, the only guarantee to playing at home is a monochrome backdrop provided by fans in team-specific T-shirts.

Consider the following:

— The Pittsburgh Penguins finished with the second-worst road record among the 16 playoff teams. Then the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions ripped off three wins in Philadelphia to kickstart their pursuit of a three-peat and backed it up with another victory in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series in Washington.

— The Capitals dropped Games 1 and 2 at home in overtime against Columbus in the opening round only to beat the Blue Jackets three times in Columbus on their way to advancing to the NHL’s final eight for the fourth consecutive year.

— Winnipeg posted an NHL-high 32 wins on home ice. One of their seven regulation home losses, however, was a wild 6-5 setback at the hands of Nashville in February. The Predators’ triumph helped them win the Presidents Trophy and guarantee home ice through the playoffs. The Jets, of course, won the series opener in Nashville to steal that advantage.

Home teams are just 25-25 so far in the playoffs heading into Tuesday, when Pittsburgh hosts Washington (7:30 p.m. Eastern, NBCSN) and Winnipeg welcomes the Predators (8 p.m., CNBC). Both series are tied after the visitors claimed their respective openers on the road.

Asked why the games have become a coin flip regardless of venue, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan — whose team was outplayed at PPG Paints Arena by Philadelphia in Game 2 and Game 5 in the opening round — admits he can’t really come up with a reason.

“I don’t know if I have answer for you that makes sense,” Sullivan said Monday. “Sometimes when teams go on the road, they have tendency to simplify their game … I know our team historically has been very good at home and I believe we will continue to do that.”

If Pittsburgh wants to become the first franchise in 35 years to win three straight titles, it doesn’t really have much of a choice. Though Sullivan is right in that the Penguins are pretty good at PPG Paints Arena, they’ve only been so-so when facing the Capitals. Washington won Game 3 and Game 6 in Pittsburgh during the 2017 post-season and wrapped up its third straight Metropolitan Division title with a 3-1 win there on April 1.

“You’ve got to create your own momentum, but it gives you good memories,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “If you have to go back into the memory bank, at least we have one. Those are things that you can bank on maybe for some positive feeling going forward.”

Predators forward Nick Bonino couldn’t offer up any specifics about Nashville’s victory in Winnipeg even though it happened all of two months ago, saying only “I’m sure we played a solid road game.”

The road does offer the visiting team a sense of routine. There aren’t as many friends or family around. No kids waking up in the middle of the night. No traffic to deal with in most places. Just wake up, suit up and go play.

“You go out to dinner, there’s not really any distractions,” Bonino said. “You’re there for hockey.”

And the hockey in both series has been spectacular. Nashville avoided heading to Canada in an 0-2 hole with a thrilling double-overtime escape in Game 2. Washington responded after blowing a two-goal, third-period lead in Game 1 by winning a predictably chippy Game 2.

That chippiness included a questionable hit by Washington’s Tom Wilson to Pittsburgh defenceman Brian Dumolin’s head in the second period that sent Dumolin into the concussion protocol. Dumolin skated with his teammates on Monday and his status — much like the status of star centre Evgeni Malkin (lower body) and Carl Hagelin (upper body) — won’t be determined until Tuesday.

Wilson was not penalized for the hit and received a pass from the league when it opted not to schedule a disciplinary hearing to review the play. While Dumolin said he didn’t see Wilson coming because he was bracing for a hit by Alex Ovechkin, Wilson claimed Dumolin turned his head just before impact leaving Wilson with no time to react.

“He stops and turns and I’m kind of right there as (Ovechkin) is coming in pretty aggressively,” Wilson said. “It’s a collision.”

Pittsburgh star Kris Letang wasn’t surprised Wilson’s hit wasn’t deemed illegal. Why?

“Because we don’t know anymore (what’s legal and illegal),” he said.

And we don’t know what a given night is going to bring anymore either. Home teams get to sleep in their beds. They get the luxury of the last line change before faceoffs, allowing them to get the matchups they want. And so far it has made zero difference in the result.

“It doesn’t have to be pretty always on the road,” Predators defenceman Matt Irwin said. “I think we embrace that.”

Just Posted

Team Alberta athletes arrive in Red Deer on Saturday for pre-games orientation

Excitement is building with less than a month to go, says Team Alberta spokesperson

Springbrook Skate Park gets financial boost

Province approves $125,000 grant for proposed skate park

UPDATED: STARS Lottery is back

Lacombe STARS patient tells his story

Former Red Deer man named Mr. Gay Canada

To compete in Mr. Gay World

Sylvan Lake council adopts waterfront plan

Sustainable Waterfront Area Redevelopment Plan to guide development for next 20 years

Trudeau says politicians shouldn’t prey on Canadians’ fears

The Prime Minister was speaking at a townhall in Ontario

In limbo: Leftover embryos challenge clinics, couples

Some are outright abandoned by people who quit paying storage fees and other couples struggle with tough decisions

Netflix rejects request to remove Lac-Megantic images from ‘Bird Box’

At least two shows on Netflix’s Canadian platform briefly use actual footage of the 2013 tragedy

Teen vaping is an epidemic: US government

E-cigarettes are now the top high-risk substance used by teenagers, outpacing cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana

‘I never said there was no collusion,’ Trump lawyer says

President Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani says he has ‘never said there was no collusion’

Body of Canadian miner found after African kidnapping

Kirk Woodman’s body was discovered 100 kilometres from the site where he worked for Progress Mineral Mining Company in Burkina Faso

Canada’s Conners on his way to full PGA Tour card with fast start to 2019 season

Corey Conners was working on his putting last Friday when fellow Canadian… Continue reading

Canada’s Milos Raonic, Denis Shapovalov advance at Australian Open

MELBOURNE, Australia — Canada’s Milos Raonic and Denis Shapovalov have advanced to… Continue reading

Study finds more than half of food produced in Canada wasted

The study released Thursday is the world’s first to measure food waste using data from industry and other sources instead of estimates

Most Read