Through 34 NHL playoff games to date, the home team has fared pretty darn well, with the Western Conference making that seem like the understatement of the year. Home teams are 23-11, to which the West has attributed an astonishing 16-2 record.
So, why is playing at home easier?
There’s no one thing that makes a huge difference, but stack up enough little things, and you’ve got just enough of an advantage to eke out a extra few wins.
Road teams are on second for morning skate, which means the time between getting off the ice, getting back to the hotel, eating pre-game meal with the team, napping, showering up and heading back to the rink is way more compact.
Playing at home is more leisurely. You’re at the rink at 9, on the ice at 10, and home before noon. You’re allowed to exhale, nap when you like, eat at your own pace, and head to the rink when you like. Not everyone prepares the same way, and the schedule of the road - here’s when we eat, here’s when we leave, and so on - is grinding if it’s not to your personal taste.
Your own place
Being on the road means staying in a hotel, and usually with another player. This is less than ideal. The guy you’re rooming with doesn’t like the room the same temperature as you, he likes TV in the background while he sleeps, and the maid keeps waking you up to clean your room. The pillows are too soft, the people in the next room are fighting, and the alarm was randomly set for the middle of the day.
Your own bed, your own food, your own life? Better.
Your dressing room
Road dressing rooms in The Show are generally nice and all, but there’s nothing like preparing in a home dressing room in the NHL. You want for nothing. Ice tub, steam room, massage tables, doctors, medicine, full gym, you name it - there’s just no excuse for not being prepared at home.
Yes, playing in a raucous environment anywhere will get you jacked up. It’s not just the Canadiens who are pumped to play in the Centre Bell. But there is a confidence, a freedom that comes from having everyone on your side. You sort of feel like you’re all in there together, and you feel responsible for representing the group well.
Players on the Red Wings know how the boards bounce in the Joe - hard. Everything kicks out quick, so they know just where to throw the puck to take advantage of that. All rinks look similar, but each one has its own nuances. In your own building, you come to have an innate knowledge of the little stuff. Maybe the ice gets slow late in periods, maybe the side walls kick harder than the back ends, maybe the corners are a bit more square. Whatever it is, you know better than the road team, even if it’s by .0001 percent.
None of these things alone make much of a difference. But put together, you can understand why home teams come out on top more often than not.