First on the draw wins in Eastern final

Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton exchanges words with Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven...

Boston Bruins right wing Nathan Horton exchanges words with Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos during the third period in Game 5 of their NHL Eastern Conference Finals hockey game in Boston, Massachusetts May 23 2011. (REUTERS/Adam Hunger)

CHRIS STEVENSON, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:07 PM ET

TAMPA BAY -- Not too much has been predictable in the Eastern Conference final.

But one trend has held true. Whichever team has been dominant in the faceoff circle has won the game.

The Boston Bruins were the latest to ride the faceoff advantage to victory in Game 5. They won 41 of 71 (58%) faceoffs in their 3-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning to take a 3-2 series lead heading into Game 6 Wednesday night at the St. Pete Times Forum.

The winning team in each game has won in the neighbourhood of 60% of the faceoffs. There hasn't been any home ice advantage as the Lightning won 61% in Boston in Game 1 and the Bruins won 65% in Game 3.

The home player generally has the edge because the visitor has to put his stick down first, allowing the home player to have the advantage of momentum. Opponents were complaining about that in the case of San Jose Sharks centre Joe Thornton, whose stick would never come to a stop before it moved through the circle

Bruins centre Gregory Campbell said the importance of faceoffs has been emphasized repeatedly by the Bruins coaching staff.

"I can't explain it," he said of the see-sawing success. "It's probably because the teams are so well-matched. It's is a huge part of the game, bigger than most people think. The team that has been starting with the puck has been the more successful team."

Coaches can help their team's odds.

With 68 seconds left in Game 5 and the Bruins nursing a 2-1 lead, there was a faceoff outside the Bruins' line. Worried his club might be forced into an icing call and he would be unable to make a change, Boston coach Claude Julien put three centres on the ice: Patrice Bergeron, Chris Kelly and Rich Peverley.

That way if there was an icing call and then a centre got tossed out, another centre could take his place.

Also, given he couldn't anticipate which side of the ice a faceoff in the Bruins zone might take place, Julien made sure he had both left (Kelly) and right-handed shots (Bergeron, Peverley) on the ice so they could line up on their strong side.

Faceoff Winning Percentage

Boston Tampa Result

Game 1 39 61 5-2, Tampa

Game 2 56 44 6-5, Boston

Game 3 57 43 2-0, Boston

Game 4 40 60 5-3, Tampa

Game 5 58 42 3-1, Boston

No player has summed up the wild swings in fortunes in the faceoff circle more than Boston's David Krejci.

His performance in the circle in the Eastern Conference final:

Won Lost %

Game 1 3 15 17

Game 2 12 13 48

Game 3 13 5 72

Game 4 3 9 25

Game 5 14 8 64

chris.stevenson@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/CJ_Stevenson


Videos

Photos