As the NHL playoffs are approaching, many teams are still in playoff contention and are battling to move up in the rankings. 16 of the 30 teams will make the postseason, but is it better to be battling for one of the lower spots?
Sabres fans saw what happened during the President’s Trophy-winning season in 2006-2007. Although they had a great team, they were upset by the Ottawa Senators in five games in the Conference Finals.
Last season, the Sabres won the division, but were knocked off in the first round. Meanwhile, Philadelphia made the postseason because of a shootout win on the final day of the regular season and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals.
In 1999, when the Sabres lost to Dallas in the Finals, Buffalo did not finish high in the Conference. They went into the postseason as a No.7 seed.
Think about it. What did the Sabres do last season when they won the division? They sat in the top three of the Conference waiting for the playoffs to begin. They had secured a spot early on. While they were sitting happily at the top of the rankings, the teams on the bottom were already in playoff mode, battling for position.
When the playoffs came around in April, it was a surprise to many when the top three teams in the East were knocked out. It shouldn’t have been. The playoffs come and these teams are expected to automatically switch gears into playoff mode while the other teams have already done that a month ago.
Those teams (Washington, New Jersey and Buffalo) even had the benefit of home-ice advantage, which didn’t help them either. The Capitals posted a 30-5-6 home record during the regular season, but went just 1-3 at home during the playoffs.
In the first round of last year’s playoffs, the home team lost more than half of the time, posting a 23-26 record. By playing the first two games at home, all the visiting team has to do is win one of them and the home ice is swapped. With a split in the first two games, it becomes a best of five game series, but the other team has home ice for the rest of the series.
In order to take full advantage of home ice advantage, a team must win both of those games before heading to the opposing team’s arena. If you’re the away team, all you should be hoping for is a split. One win on the road will force the other team to have to do the same, if they wish to win the series.
Having home ice advantage in the playoffs doesn’t mean much anymore, at least not to me. Any game seven that occurs will come down to who wants it more, and where the game is played does not mean anything. Pittsburgh had that exact situation on Wednesday, but were beat by Montreal 5-2.
The Sabres may not be predicted by experts to go far in the playoffs (if they make it), but with the addition of Brad Boyes and new owner Terry Pegula, Buffalo has the potential to head into the postseason with tons of momentum.