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The Boston Bruins, Detroit Red Wings and Vancouver Canucks are resting at home after convincing first round sweeps. Meanwhile, after the Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes won yesterday, at least two and as many as four series will go the distance.
The team that wins Game 7 will have only one or two days off before playing its second round matchup, potentially against a well-rested opponent. Invariably, when a well-rested team plays against a club only day(s) removed from a grueling series, analysts dedicate considerable time and resources to discussing which team has the advantage.
Though analysts have opinions on whether a rested team has an advantage, oddsmakers focus on other factors.
“That kind of tangible handicapping doesn't play into our opening prices,” says Randy Scott, sportsbook manager of betED.com. “We stick with stats, matchup history and power rankings to guide our opening prices and leave the tangibles up to the players to figure out.
“Whichever theory is the more popular one will get the attention from us to adjust the prices in the direction of the action.”
A team that is well rested can relax and recover from injury, but also takes a break from the intensity of the playoffs. Conversely, a team coming off a Game 7 victory has momentum and doesn’t need to refocus. The downside is that the squad has to deal with the physical effects of a seven-game series.
Two years ago, the Canucks nearly blew a 3-1 series lead to Dallas and although they won that series in seven games, wound up losing to Anaheim in the next round. Canucks defensemen Willie Mitchell recalled that “we didn’t finish off Dallas and ended up with guys that had torn abs, broken ribs, the list goes on and on all the injuries we had and it hurt us playing against Anaheim.”
The effect of a long rest will be most obvious in the first game of a series. The team that wins the first game of a best of seven wins the series 69.4 percent of the time (372-164) in the NHL.
Looking at historical data since the lockout, it appears there is an argument to be made that a lack of rest can contribute to playoff success, particularly when playing against a well-rested team. The caveat, of course, is that only three years worth of data was examined.
Teams with seven days off or more are 1-5 in the first game of the next round and are 2-4 overall in those series. The only Game 1 victory by a team with seven days of rest or more came last year, when the Penguins erased a 3-0 second period deficit to defeat the Rangers.
Teams with two days off or less are 4-3 in the first game of the next round and 4-3 in those series.
The sharpest contrast is noticed when teams with long layoffs play a side that is just fresh of the prior series. Clubs with seven days of rest or more playing against teams with three days of rest or less are 0-4 and are 1-3 in their respective series. Teams with two days of rest or less are 3-1 and are 3-1 in their respective series playing against teams that have “out-rested” them by three days or more.
Finally, teams with three days of rest or less playing a team that has at least four more off days are 4-1 and are 3-2 in the series overall.
So what does this mean for bettors?
Based on the last three years of data on the effect of rest on game one results, here are the recommended plays:
Bet against Boston in Game 1, unless they play Pittsburgh.
Bet against Detroit and Vancouver in Game 1, unless they play each other. Don’t forget that Vancouver has had an especially long layoff.