NHL Hockey Betting:  Pittsburgh Penguins at San Jose Sharks&h=253&w=372&zc=1

For the first time since Game Five of their series with the Washington Capitals the Pittsburgh Penguins are an underdog. That fact alone clearly reflects the importance of this game to the home town San Jose Sharks. San Jose ended up on the wrong end of two very close games in Pittsburgh losing both by a single goal, Game Two in overtime. Of course, teams don’t get any credit for keeping games close in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it doesn’t change the dynamic that Pittsburgh just needs two more wins to claim the championship.

It’s easy to lose track of the importance of ‘value’ in playoff handicapping given a situation like this. San Jose’s season is on the line and that’s clearly been priced into the betting line. Home teams down 0-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals are a 56% winner in Game Three. But that doesn’t give much of a case to change our value oriented strategy for this series. The Sharks haven’t had any trouble winning at home during the playoffs (7-2) but were horrible on home ice during the regular season (18-20-3). And as we noted at the outset this is the first time in eleven games that the Penguins have been an underdog in any situation. They were even a -130 to -150 favorite at Tampa Bay during the Conference Finals.

So the thing to ask about this matchup now is simply: what has changed? No injuries, no personnel moves, nothing of any significance. The venue has changed but that happened during the Tampa Bay series and Pittsburgh was still favored. The most likely conclusion is that the Penguins are underdogs due to the Sharks being in a ‘must win’ situation. Betting against teams in ‘must win’ situations is a long term winning concept in every sport including hockey.

The premise we’ve had throughout the Tampa Bay series applies here as well. These are two very evenly matched teams. And getting +130 on one side of a coin flip is a long term profitable strategy no matter what names are on the teams’ sweaters. We won’t change this strategy based simply on the situation.