The decreasing reliability of home-ice advantage in recent Stanley Cup playoffs—especially in the first round—has come to bare in the Western Conference. Home teams have won just nine of 24 games leading into the final first-round contest with the Anaheim Ducks hosting the Nashville Predators Wednesday, April 27.
It goes deeper than that. No matter what happens Wednesday, the Minnesota Wild (1-2) will be the only Western Conference team with a losing road record in the first round of the playoffs.
It is no surprise that the San Jose Sharks were an unbeaten 3-0 on the road given they finished with the best road record on the 2015-16 NHL season. Four teams have gone 2-1 this far, with the Predators among them having one more to play.
If Nashville loses, it would join the Los Angeles Kings and Chicago Blackhawks—winners of five of the last six Stanley Cups between the two—as the only other teams not above .500. If it wins, five of the eight Western Conference teams would exceed that mark.
Chelena Goldman outlined some of the road-ice success in the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs on Yardbarker April 22. All four road teams won that night, but home teams are 6-2 since in a possible regression to the mean.
Often when road teams win in the first round, it is fueled by mismatches. The quality of a team means more than which rink they are playing on. Overconfident home favorites and bad “puck-luck” games that happen in both rinks to skew the numbers slightly.
In the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, road success has driven series even and fueled at least one upset: San Jose jumped out to a major advantage and did not let Los Angeles up off the mat by winning all three road games.
The St. Louis Blues are also underdogs despite their higher seed and regained control of their series with wins in the first two games in Chicago. Wins in the first two games in Anaheim opened the door for an upset that will either happen because of another road win or slip away because the road team won the next two, as well.
Even if the Sharks are the only lower seed to advance, the road record is significant. The Predators can both substantiate road-ice advantage and seize it for a Pacific Division final between the teams by beating the Ducks Wednesday.
Many of the teams advancing through the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs are somewhat new to it, leaving fewer trends to examine and giving pause to believing in any status quo. The second round will make or break whether road success and be worth a further look, especially because the Western Conference series are bound to be evenly-matched.