Game One of the Stanley Cup Finals begins tonight, with the New York Rangers facing off against the Los Angeles Kings in a cross-country battle for hockey’s ultimate prize. Los Angeles will have the home ice advantage over the Rangers, having finished the regular season with a better home record. However, the record in his year’s playoffs have shown that the Kings should not feel comforted by that additional home game. This year, when a series goes to seven games, the away team has a decisive 6-1 advantage in Game Sevens.
Los Angeles themselves is mostly responsible for that lopsided record. The Kings have played a seven-game series in each round during their Stanley Cup run, entering each Game Seven as the away team. Yet, like clockwork, Los Angeles has continually left the arena in celebration, even as the home fans leave in tears and anger. The Kings became only the fourth team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit in their first round matchup against the San Jose Sharks, after Los Angeles took Game Seven in the Shark Tank by a commanding 5-1 score. The team followed that series by taking Game Six and Seven against the Anaheim Ducks in the next round, again leaving little doubt as to the winner of the series as they took Game Seven in the Honda Center by a score of 6-2.
The Western Conference Finals looked to be the swan call for the Kings after they lost Games Five and Six to the last year’s Stanley Cup Champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. This set up a Game Seven in the United Center, with all the momentum on Chicago’s side. Especially concerning for Los Angeles was the emergence of Chicago’s Patrick Kane, who was held scoreless in the first four games of the series, but put up an astounding seven points in Games Five and Six. Kane had an immediate impact on Game Seven as well, earning the primary assist on two goals that put the Blackhawks up early in the game. However, as they have done throughout their playoff run, Los Angeles rallied back, eventually scoring the gamewinner just under six minutes into overtime.
The Kings have not been the only team to take advantage of foreign ice. The first round series against the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche saw the home team take every game up until Game Seven, when the visiting Wild shocked a young Avalanche team and their fans by scoring the overtime winner. In the Eastern Conference Semifinals, the Montreal Canadiens upset their heated rivals, the Boston Bruins, by shutting them out in Game Six at the Bell Centre and holding the Bruins to only a single goal in Game Seven at TD Garden.
Los Angeles’ opponent in the Stanley Cup Finals has also faced their fair share of Game Seven excitement. In their first round match against the Philadelphia Flyers, the New York Rangers became the only team in the playoffs this year to win a Game Seven on home ice, defeating Philadelphia at Madison Square Garden, 2-1. In the following round, New York repeated the 2-1 score in Game Seven as they overcame a 3-1 series deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
If the series does go to seven games, home ice will mean little, as it will come down to the individual performances. Both the New York Rangers and the Los Angeles Kings have clutch playoff performers in that regard, as New York goaltender Henrik Lundqvist has a 1.00 Goals Against Average and a .965 Save Percentage in Game Sevens, while Los Angeles has “Mr. Game Seven” himself, Justin Williams, who has 14 points in seven career Game Sevens. The Kings may have home ice advantage in the Stanley Cup Finals, but if this year’s playoffs is any indication, it is not an advantage they should rely upon.
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Commentary by Jonathan Gardner