Home teams have not fared well early in the NHL playoffs.
Road teams won six of eight series openers, including all four in the Western Conference, the first time each of those things has happened at the start of the postseason since 2003.
Every road team won Game 1 Tuesday night, with Tampa Bay coming out on top at Toronto, the New York Rangers beating New Jersey, Winnipeg blowing out Vegas and Seattle surprising defending Stanley Cup champion Colorado.
“Maybe nerves, underdog teams, something to prove has a little bit to do with it,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. “A little chip on their shoulder.”
New Jersey’s Lindy Ruff said as a coach he sometimes prefers starting on the road to avoid distractions. Without that benefit, he and the Devils will try Thursday night to avoid an 0-2 hole before the series crosses the river into Manhattan. The Leafs, Golden Knights and Avalanche face similar challenges.
“Being away, you’re in your little bubble,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Maybe that is something we have to look into when six of eight home teams lose. Maybe they’re caught up in that stuff from the outside getting ready. It happens, but these guys are pros. I suspect all those home teams will play better.”
Teams that lose the first two games of a best-of-seven series while at home have gone on to win it just 20 times in 105 chances.
Lightning at Maple Leafs
Tampa Bay leads 1-0 (7 p.m. ET)
Expect a lineup shuffle for the Lightning in Game 2 after losing three players to injury in the series opener.
Coach Jon Cooper ruled out Erik Cernak and Michael Eyssimont and said top defenseman Victor Hedman was questionable. Cernak was injured on an illegal check to the head by Toronto’s Michael Bunting, who was ejected and given a three-game suspension from the league on Tuesday. Hedman left with an injury.
Tampa Bay could get a boost with the potential return of gritty forward Tanner Jeannot, the team’s trade deadline pickup who has been out since April 6.
“Everything’s feeling really well, trainers did a great job and I’m feeling good on the ice,” Jeannot said after practicing Wednesday. “Working hard at getting back as quick as possible. That’s what we’re always trying to do. All I could do is everything to get back as quick as I could, so we’ll see.”
Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe said Ilya Samsonov will again start Game 2 after allowing six goals on 29 shots and getting pulled Tuesday night.
“I don’t think anything surprised us,” Toronto defenceman Mark Giordano said of the opener. “We know what type of team they are. We had some bad, bad moments in the game individually and collectively.”
Rangers at Devils
New York leads 1-0 (7:30 p.m. ET)
After racking up a franchise-record 52 wins during the season that included just four losing streaks, the young Devils aren’t putting much stock into dropping Game 1.
Players acknowledged early jitters after New York scored twice in the first 10 minutes, a lapse that changed the course of the game on the way to a 5-1 final. Failing to score on three early power plays, including not registering a shot on the first two, prevented New Jersey from getting any momentum against the more experienced Rangers, who went to the Eastern Conference final last year.
“I don’t think I have to tell (players) a lot,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff said. “Every time we were backed into a corner this year, we came out and played really good hockey. We played tough games, bad games, and we always responded.”
Kraken at Avalanche
Seattle leads 1-0 (9:30 p.m. ET)
Colorado won seven of 10 home games during its Cup run last year, so players aren’t going to downplay the advantage of getting another there before the series shifts to Seattle.
Knowing all the small things that help, they’re also not taking home-ice advantage for granted.
“You still have to play the right way to get the win,” forward Matt Nieto said. “The crowd’s not going to get you the wins.”
To even the series, the Avalanche have to crack Philipp Grubauer, the Kraken starter who left Colorado two years ago to sign with Seattle and stopped 34 of 35 shots in Game 1. He enjoyed every minute of it, too, as the Kraken made their playoff debut a successful one.
“There’s nothing better than playing against your old team in the playoffs,” Grubauer said.
His team found a formula for slowing down the speedy Avalanche led by 100-point scorers Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen.
“Nate is a super-fast, super-skilled. He can cut back and find late guys,” Grubauer said. “Mikko has an unbelievable shot and a body in front so it doesn’t always make it easy to look around and so got to be aware of what they do on the ice.”
MacKinnon would like to see the Avalanche get mentally back on track. Star defenseman Cale Makar said: “There’s a lot of good things that happened, but at the same time, every individual knows we can give a lot more here.”
Jets at Golden Knights
Winnipeg leads 1-0 (10 p.m. ET)
Vegas won all three regular-season games against Winnipeg, but Jets coach Rick Bowness was convinced his team hadn’t played its best. After a 5-1 win in Game 1, he knows the Golden Knights’ best is ahead.
“They’re a great hockey club over there, and they’re going to get momentum,” Bowness said.
This is not the first time Vegas has fallen behind a playoff series against Winnipeg. The same thing happened in the 2018 Western Conference final, which the Golden Knights then won in five games.
Much like then, forward Reilly Smith thinks he and his teammates “just need a bounce-back game.”
“It wasn’t the performance any of us wanted, but it’s one game,” Smith said. “It’s a long series. Kind of wipe the slate clean and make sure we bring our best effort next game.”