The Real Home Ice Advantage: How It Helped Boston Beat Tampa in Game 7

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The Real Home Ice Advantage: How It Helped Boston Beat Tampa in Game 7
Jim Rogash/Getty Images
The key for Boston to win the Cup

Let's compare Game 6 of the Bruins-Lightning series to Game 7.

Game 6 was an offensive explosion by both teams with nine goals total being scored, and 10 penalties being called (only nine resulted in power plays). At the end of the first period, three goals were already scored, 2-1 to the Bruins.

Tampa Bay responded in the second and third periods thanks to Bruins penalties.

They scored three power play goals between the 7:55 mark of the second period and the :34 mark of the third.

After another three goals, the final period ended, with Tampa on top, bettering the B's both on the scoreboard and in controlling the tempo of the game.

Game 7 was the complete opposite of the previous game. It was a defensive struggle led by the two goaltenders. The one goal that was scored was the result of a 2-on-1 break for the Bruins.

Also, no penalties were called on either team. So, there were nine goals in Game 6, with 10 penalties, and one goal in Game 7 with no penalties.

There are a few reasons for why the two games were so different from each other. Most obviously, one could suggest that the Bruins went into Game 7 with more energy and focus than they had in Game 6.

Elsa/Getty Images
The mastermind behind Boston's Game 7 victory

With their backs now firmly against the wall, Boston was now fully motivated and prepared for the final game.

This could clearly be the case. In Game 7, Boston played with the discipline that escaped them in the previous game. They locked down defensively and avoided the penalties that cost them Game 6.

There is one flaw with that line of thinking. Tampa Bay came out with the same focus and determination that Boston did. The fact that the game was so close is a testament to that.

The Lightning also had no penalties called against them, displaying the same discipline that Boston did.

And determination? Isn't Steven Stamkos returning from a shattered nose and playing despite dripping blood for the remainder of the game a good enough example of determination?

My answer for why there was such a disparity between the tempo and outcome of Games 6 and 7 is simple: home ice. No, it wasn't that Boston was motivated by their fans or more comfortable in their homes rather than a hotel.

As the home team, Boston was able to gain an edge on Tampa Bay by having the last change, the opportunity to see which players the opposing team has on the ice before sending out their own.

In Game 6, Tampa coach Guy Boucher was able to create mismatches in favor of his team. He could put out his best players (Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and Stamkos) against lesser Boston players.

Harry How/Getty Images
Can Chara shut down the Sedins? He probably won't be on the ice with them for much of Games 1 and 2.

The best advantage that this gave his was the ability to avoid putting his player on the ice against Boston's stifling defensive duo, captain Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg.

 In Game 7, Boston coach Claude Julien had the advantage. He could make sure that Chara and Seidenberg were on the ice with one, two or all three of Tampa's best players.

A direct example of the effect that using the last change has is the first Tampa goal in Game 6. A Boston line centered by Chris Kelly was matched up against a Tampa line with Lecavalier. Lecavalier, this post-season, wins face-offs at a 49.9% rate. Kelly wins at a 44% rate.

Regardless of the stats, Vinny felt he could beat Kelly at the dot. He motioned for Teddy Purcell to move into position right behind him. Lecavalier won the faceoff directly to Purcell, who one-timed the puck into the back of the net.

If Boston had last change, perhaps Patrice Bergeron (over 62% on face-offs) would have taken the draw, won it and prevented the goal.

Indirectly, the effects of having the last change can be seen through the matchups on the ice. Logically, Tampa wants to avoid having its top offensive players go against the best defensive pairing of Boston.

In Game 6, Chara played over 30 minutes of the game, but was on the ice only 15 times when any or all of Tampa's "Big 3" were on the ice (I really apologize for using the term "Big 3", but it fits)**. Seidenberg played over 28 minutes, but was only on the ice 16 times with any or all of Stamkos, Lecavalier and St. Louis.

In Game 6, the Lightning appeared to have been targeting Johnny Boychuck. He was on the ice for about 12 and a half minutes, but faced at least one of Tampa's best three 15 times.

When he faced all three at once, Tampa scored twice. When he faced St. Louis and Stamkos, Tampa scored once. When he faced Lecavalier, Tampa also scored once.

So, when matched up against Johnny Boychuck, instead of Chara or Seidenberg, Tampa scored four times, including three times on the power play.

In Game 7, the defensive matchups are much different. Obviously, Tampa scored zero goals, including zero goals from its "Big 3" players.

Could this change be traced back to Boston coach Claude Julien making sure that his best defensive pair was on the ice to shut down the best Lightning players? Looking at the numbers, it appears that this is the case.

Though Boychuck played more (18 minutes) and actually faced one of Tampa's best players more (20 times), Chara and Seidenberg saw massive increases.

Chara actually played about 4 minutes less, but he had 34 shifts. Of those 34 shifts, all of them at least overlapped with a shift of one of Tampa's best offensive players. I counted that at least 34 times, Chara was on the ice while Stamkos, St. Louis or Lecavalier were on the ice.

The same jump can be seen with Seidenberg. He played 35 shifts, and 33 times he was on the ice while Stamkos, St. Louis or Lecavalier were on the ice.

Perhaps it is an obvious conclusion that Julien would use his last change to create favorable match ups against the Lightning, but now there are numbers to back up that assertion. Comparing the two games also shows the incredible effect that the using the last change can have on a game.

When the match ups on the ice were in Boston's favor, they absolutely shut down the Lightning. When the Lightning had the better match ups, they scored five goals.

Now the question is how Vancouver can take advantage of home ice like the Bruins did in this series, and whether Boston will be able to overcome it to win the Stanley Cup.

**Please note that I calculated the "times on ice vs. Big 3" number by scanning the Play-by-Play summary for each game (found here: http://tinyurl.com/3qmrmf3 and here: http://tinyurl.com/3lpc6a9) and noting when players mentioned.

If, for example, Chara was on the ice for a play when Stamkos and St. Louis were on the ice, it counted as 1 time.

Also note that if there were multiple mentions of players in a row, that it was still counted as only 1 time. The stat could be stated as calculating how many times the shifts of players overlapped. I concede that this method is not as precise as other methods (watching the game tape for example), but I feel that it is enough to demonstrate my point.

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