Friday, May 05, 2006

NHL Denies San Jose, Anaheim Requests To Relinquish Home Ice Advantage

Tonight begins the conference semifinal round in the NHL playoffs. Coming off a grueling 7-game series with Calgary, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks will take on the Colorado Avalanche. However, Anaheim and the San Jose Sharks have already been dealt a major defeat by the league office. The NHL has denied both teams’ requests to relinquish their home ice advantage.

The Ducks and Sharks filed their requests based on the results of the first round of playoffs. All western conference teams with home ice advantage lost in the opening round. Even the Detroit Red Wings, after the league’s best regular season, were sent packing by the Edmonton Oilers. Detroit sports fans are absolutely stunned. Not that the Wings were eliminated, but that the Tigers are suddenly good.

The scene is far different back east, where the top four seeds all advanced into the second round. Therefore, the road ice advantage may carry a western team to the finals, but it likely won’t bring the Stanley Cup. However, the Sharks and Ducks are already dreaming of Ottawa and New Jersey – anything to distract them from the unpleasantness of opening a series at home.

Anaheim and San Jose felt that by being the higher seeds, they should have the option of whether to accept the home ice advantage or not. Anaheim began every series on the road in 2003, yet it advanced to the Stanley Cup finals. As the sixth seed, the Mighty Ducks assumed that they would do the same this season, but the Avalanche and Oilers were one step ahead of them. The Sharks planned to take things even further, hoping to play their “home” games in Boston. However, commissioner Gary Bettman has ruled that both western series will open as scheduled in California.

With the appeal denied, Anaheim must try to stop a hot Colorado team tonight at the Arrowhead Pond. Unlike the Mighty Ducks, the Avalanche will be rested after eliminating the Dallas Stars in five games. Therefore, Anaheim is particularly vulnerable if the action goes to overtime. What remains to be seen is how both teams would respond to tonight’s overtime wrinkle, if it arises. According to an NHL rule honoring Cinco de Mayo, any game tied after regulation on May 5 will be decided by a margarita-chugging contest.

The Sharks are in a similar position, contending with an Edmonton team that knows it can take down anyone. San Jose does have the NHL points leader in Joe Thornton and the league’s top goal scorer in Jonathan Cheechoo (Gesundheit!). However, fans fear that having home ice will cause their team to perform like another Shark in the clutch. San Jose could turn into Greg Norman, shanking their shots while the Oilers morph into Nick Faldo.

In The Wizard of Oz, Dorothy uttered the famous line, “There’s no place like home.” This ignorance about hockey is why Kansas does not have an NHL franchise.