After playing in front of a pair of buzzing home environments in the Stanley Cup final, the Lightning’s path to a second straight Cup title shifts Friday from Tampa to smaller crowds in Montreal.
Amalie Arena hosted almost 16,000 fans in Game 1, and its capacity swelled to an announced 17,166 for Wednesday’s Game 2. Montreal’s Bell Centre will remain limited to 3,500 because of tighter coronavirus restrictions.
Does the attendance disparity create a home-ice advantage for the Lightning?
Not a significant one, sports betting experts say.
“I don’t think it’s a factor at all,” said Bill Speros, a senior producer for bookies.com.
Adam Burns agrees. As the sportsbook manager for the offshore site betonline.ag, Burns has monitored the effects of homefield advantage across sports during the coronavirus pandemic, first as games resumed without fans and then as crowds returned differently in different regions.
The only change Burns noticed was an uptick in underdogs winning UFC fights without fans, something that might have been a coincidence or based on specific matchups more than the empty seats. For every other major sport, Burns didn’t spot any significant trends.
“We’ve held the line,” Burns said.
That doesn’t mean a home advantage isn’t real, at least for some. Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said the crowd’s energy for Game 1 of the Cup final created an immediate push.
“We were flying because of them,” Gourde said.
Home teams have other edges beyond fan support. Athletes don’t have to deal with planes or hotel beds when they’re playing at home. They’re more comfortable in their familiar locker room and understand the arena’s quirks better.
In hockey, the home team gets a decided tactical advantage. The visiting team must put its players on the ice first, so the home team can counter with a specific matchup based on the opposing line and defensive pairing. That personnel edge can be more significant than an extra jolt of adrenaline players receive by playing in front of a raucous home crowd.
In its six-game league semifinal win against Vegas, Montreal had the same 2-1 record at home in front of 3,500 fans as it did in Las Vegas in front of capacity crowds of almost 18,000. The Canadiens outscored the Golden Knights 8-7 on the road and 7-6 at home.
Regardless of whether Montreal hosts 3,500 or 10,500 fans (the Canadiens’ rejected proposal), Burns doesn’t see the line changing; the Lightning will still be favored.
Before the series began, the Canadiens’ odds were around plus-240, meaning a $100 bet wins $240. After the Lightning’s lopsided 5-1 win in the series opener, Montreal’s odds moved to around plus-430 (where a $100 bet wins $430).
“I would say that at plus-430, maybe plus-429 has nothing to do with the crowd size in Montreal,” Speros said, “and everything to do with the fact that they got smoked the other night and appeared to have no offense whatsoever.”
If you’re looking for a better home-road trend to watch this series, Speros has another idea: Each of the past five Stanley Cup champions clinched the title away from home (including Tampa Bay’s triumph in the Canadian bubble last year). The last team to buck that trend? The 2015 Blackhawks, who clinched the Cup at home against the Lightning.
Times staff writer Mari Faiello contributed to this report.
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