Being the favorite in an NHL playoff series ain’t what it used to be.
Consider how coaches Darryl Sutter and Bruce Boudreau have rejected upper-hand status in the Kings-Ducks series as if it’ll give them the cooties.
“You can talk all you want,” Sutter told reporters prior to Game 7. “There’s a big underdog going in against the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference.”
To which Boudreau replied, “I’m rubber, you’re glue. What you say bounces off me and sticks to you.” Or perhaps he said:
“You can ask anybody here who they think the underdog is and the underdog is us…I thought it was pretty funny when Darryl said that and he actually said it with a straight face.”
Clearly, the gamesmanship is about getting an edge, relieving some pressure on players, fostering an us-against-the-world mentality in the dressing room. We get it.
But who should truly be considered the underdog in tonight’s Game 7? Who should we expect to win?
Four reasons the Ducks should be favored
• They finished first in the Western Conference during the regular season, one point behind the Presidents’ Trophy winning Boston Bruins and 16 ahead of Los Angeles
• They scored 60 more goals than the Kings in the regular season and were second in the league, again behind the Bruins, with a plus-57 goal differential
• They’ve got fresher legs entering Game 7, having dispensed of Dallas in six games in Round 1, while the Kings had to go an emotionally and physically grueling seven with San Jose
• They have home ice advantage, the reward for which they played so hard all season
Four the Kings should be favored
• They have more experience in Game 7s/elimination games in recent years, with three players (Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Marian Gaborik) boasting perfect 5-0 marks in Game 7s
• They’re facing a rookie goaltender, who admittedly is tracking towards NHL stardom, but who hasn’t yet been through the wringer
• They have the upper hand in advanced statistics/puck possession during this series, both Corsi and Fenwick
• Home ice advantage for Anaheim might be neutralized by proximity of the markets (players have slept in their own beds all series) and the fact home teams are just 1-4 in Game 7s this year. All-time in Game 7s, home teams are 91-63.
So what’s the answer? How about nobody?
Parity is pervasive in today’s NHL; the line between winning and losing is incredibly fine and that reality has only intensified in the playoffs. There is achingly little to choose between these two clubs: Anaheim is faster and probably more skilled; Los Angeles defends better than anyone and has a goalie who can steal games.
Even Vegas perceives the clubs as dead-even. Bodog has both listed at 11:2 in its Stanley Cup odds.
Prevailing wisdom around the NHL these days says the team that feels it has less to lose is typically more dangerous in Game 7 showdowns. In other words, the club that feels it’s the underdog.
With two underdogs for tonight’s contest, as the legendary Bob Cole once said, maybe nobody will win this game.