SAN JOSE, Calif. – Familiarity with rinks. Loud fans providing a boost of energy. Dictating matchups with the last line change.
Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks aren’t exactly sure why home teams have been winning games in the NHL playoffs at a clip not seen in more than three decades. They just hope that trend continues for Game 6 on Sunday night when they look to stave off elimination against the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings and force a decisive seventh game. Then they can try to figure out how to stop it.
“It’s throughout the league,” Thornton said Saturday. “I have no idea. You rarely saw that in the past. This year it seems like every time a home team gets a chance they always win at home. It will be a good thing for us tomorrow.”
The home team has won all five games of this series so far with the Kings holding a 3-2 edge. In fact, the home team has won all nine games between the teams this year, including the regular season.
This series has not been an anomaly. Through Friday’s games, home teams have won 45 of 65 games this post-season for a .692 winning percentage. That’s the best playoff mark for home teams since they went 35-13 in 1975-76 (.729) and a stark difference from the recent past when home teams had a .500 record in the previous seven postseasons.
The dominance has been even more pronounced in the second round where home teams have won 15 of 18 games, with only Detroit, Boston and Pittsburgh breaking through on the road through Friday.
But the Sharks know they will need more than just home-ice advantage to beat goalie Jonathan Quick and the Kings. They will need a much more complete performance than they delivered in a 3-0 loss in Los Angeles on Thursday night that put them in this 3-2 hole.
“I don’t think I’ve ever thought ‘we’ll be fine,'” forward Logan Couture said. “You feel comfortable because you’re at home, but ‘being fine’ never enters you’re mind because they’re a great team. They’re playing very well, their goaltender is standing on his head every night. We know it’s going to be a challenge. Saying ‘we’ll be fine’ has never entered my mind.”
It’s not as if San Jose’s two home wins this series came easily. The Sharks needed overtime to beat the Kings 2-1 in Game 3 on a power-play goal by Couture and then hung on to hold off Los Angeles 2-1 in Game 4 despite being outshot 14-2 in the final period.
Those games give the Kings confidence they can be the first team to break through on the road despite the fact they have won just one road game in 11 tries since March.
“We lost 2-1 there twice,” coach Darryl Sutter said. “If we’d have won 2-1 in overtime, you wouldn’t be saying that. I mean, that’s how close they are. It’s not much difference.”
The biggest difference for San Jose has been a power play that is elite at home and pedestrian on the road. The Sharks have converted 9 of 24 (37.5 per cent) power-play chances at home this post-season, compared to 1 of 19 (5.3 per cent) on the road in a continuation of a season-long trend.
The Sharks generated just four shots and fewer good chances in three power-play tries in Game 5 after getting three of their four goals at home with the man advantage.
“It comes down to our power play,” forward Patrick Marleau said. “‘We’ve got to use it as momentum. At least get some really good looks at the net. Obviously we want to get some goals on it as well. But all around I think a little bit more and we’ll be OK.”
San Jose could get a boost with the return of forward Adam Burish to the lineup. Burish broke his right hand in the clinching game in the first round against Vancouver and originally was ruled out of this series. But the injury healed quicker than anticipated and he appears ready to go in what could be the last game of the season.
Burish will help solidify the fourth line and gives the Sharks a proven penalty killer and important physical presence against a big Kings team.
“I’m not coming to save the day,” Burish said. “I think that’s clear. This team’s done a great job. We’re in a good spot right now. We’re just fine where we are. I’m just going to look to contribute. Just bring some energy, bring some attitude. Bring some desperate attitude, I guess, is what I’m going to bring, add on to what we already have.”
NOTES: Burish would likely replace D Jason Demers, who played on the fourth line Thursday in his first playoff action this season. Demers got less than 4 minutes of ice time and not play after taking a boarding penalty late in the second period. … The Kings have not allowed more than three goals in 31 straight playoff games, starting with last year’s run to the Stanley Cup. The last time they allowed four in the post-season came when Thornton scored the series-clincher in overtime for a 4-3 win in 2011. … Los Angeles is 21-0 the past two years when scoring at least two goals.
AP Sports Writer Greg Beacham in El Segundo, Calif., contributed to this report.