Remember when it wasn’t considered safe to leave your home but sporting events could go on? For those who weren’t aware, that is still the reality in much of Canada. But rest assured, the wacky government to the north is not going to let this pandemic mess up the NHL Playoffs.
Canada Opens Border for NHL Playoffs
As the pandemic has slowly been mitigated in the United States, the Canadian government has refused to budge. The borders have remained shuttered to travel to and from the country. Even worse, strict lockdowns have been continuously enforced in major cities like Toronto and Montreal.
All the while, the seven Canadian NHL teams competed against each other in empty arenas this season. But with the NHL Playoffs progressing, the eventual North Division champ will have to play another team.
Such a scenario figured to be a problem with the borders still closed. But apparently, Canada is willing to make concessions for sports.
Huge news: Beginning next round, Canadian teams can host U.S. teams—as long as American teams get tested daily & don’t interact with general public.
Deputy commish Bill Daly says NHL is “very appreciative of the decision by the Canadian government & Federal health officials”
— Emily Kaplan (@emilymkaplan) June 6, 2021
Well, what do you know? Not only will Canada allow the NHL teams a travel exemption, but they’ll even let American teams play games in the country!
As anticipated, Canada has issued a travel exemption that would allow NHL teams to cross the border.
Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino issued a "national interest" exemption to the NHL allowing cross-border travel with a modified bubble, for the Semis and #StanleyCup Final.
— John Shannon (@JShannonhl) June 6, 2021
Up until now, the NHL was working on a contingency plan to have the North Division champion relocate to the United States so that the Stanley Cup Playoffs could continue. With this new decree from the north, that is no longer necessary.
The Montreal Canadiens currently lead the Winnipeg Jets 2-0 in their best-of-seven series to decide the North Division champ. The winner will play either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights for the right to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals.
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With the Canadian government approving this exemption for the NHL Playoffs, it begs the question of when we might see similar action taken for other sports teams. The NBA’s Toronto Raptors were stuck playing all of their home games this past season in Tampa, Florida.
The first "home" game for the Raptors, in Tampa Bay: pic.twitter.com/0WkOYz82uN
— NBA on ESPN (@ESPNNBA) December 19, 2020
Right now, the MLB’s Toronto Blue Jays are the most impacted. With Canada dragging the pandemic shutdown on, the Jays have been forced to play their home games in the United States. The team is currently playing just over the border in Buffalo, New York.
Here are the differences in field dimensions between Sahlen Field in Buffalo and Rogers Centre in Toronto.
— Blue Jays in Buffalo (@BlueJaysBuffalo) July 24, 2020
All that being said, one team dislocated is nothing compared to what the NHL had to navigate this season. With nearly a quarter of the league calling Canada home, the entire regular season was limited to inter-division play. Luckily, it doesn’t appear that politics will prevent a normal travel sequence in the playoffs.
Home-ice advantage will certainly be in favor of either the Golden Knights or Avalanche, though. Stadiums and arenas are close to full capacity across the United States at this point. Not in Canada, where a few hundred people have been the largest crowd to attend any NHL Playoffs game to date.
— NHL on NBC Sports (@NHLonNBCSports) May 29, 2021
Unless something changes quickly, it’ll be quite the contrast in terms of atmosphere.