- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 18, 2004

How the West was lost is the story of the NHL’s Western Conference playoffs. When Calgary beat host San Jose 3-0 late Monday night, the Flames and Sharks tied an NHL record with the home team failing to win any of the series’ first five games.

The Sharks, whose season is over unless they break that mark by winning in Calgary tonight, have grown accustomed to the anti-home ice advantage as the road team won the last two games of their conference semifinal with Colorado. It has been three weeks since San Jose played a game won by the home team.

That’s not the way it’s supposed to work, even in an era of cookie-cutter buildings. The NHL regular season is about clinching a playoff berth and then securing as high a seed as possible to guarantee home ice for the fifth and seventh games of a series if they’re necessary. The home team not only has the crowd on its side and sleeps in its own beds, but its coach has the final line change, which means he can obtain the matchups he wants.

Home ice was never more important than last year. The seventh-seeded Anaheim Mighty Ducks rode their success at Arrowhead Pond all the way to Game7 of the finals before succumbing to the heavily favored New Jersey Devils. The home team won every game in that series. The Cinderella Ducks’ 4-7 road record was the second-worst of the eight teams to advance past the first round, but their 9-1 home mark was second only to the Devils’ 12-1.

Calgary, seeded sixth this spring, has turned that logic upside down with a 3-5 home mark that’s 14th among the 16th playoff teams while compiling an 8-2 road record. This against the West’s top three seeds: No.3 Vancouver (3-1), No.1 Detroit (2-1) and No.2 San Jose (3-0). The record for road victories in a postseason is 10 by New Jersey in 1995 and 2000 en route to winning the Cup each time.

“It’s definitely different what we’re doing,” Flames star Jarome Iginla said after scoring his playoff-high ninth goal in Monday’s victory. “I can’t put my finger on why it’s working out this way. I don’t think anybody can. It’s kind of fun, though.”

Not for the Sharks, who were booed off the ice after each of Monday’s final two periods. After winning its first five home games against St. Louis and Colorado, San Jose is 0-4 at HP Pavilion (a k a the Shark Tank) this month dating to Game5 against the Avalanche.

“We’ve been battling the odds ever since the beginning of the series, and we’ll try to do it again,” said center Vincent Damphousse, whose team started the series with a pair of home defeats. “We just have to keep winning road games. That seems to be the trend.”

The only other series in NHL history that went as far as five games without a home team winning were a 1951 semifinal between Detroit and Montreal that the Canadiens clinched at the Forum in Game6 and the 2000 Eastern finals between New Jersey and Philadelphia in which the Devils rallied to win the last two games.

Whichever team reaches the Stanley Cup Finals from the West will be taking on history as well as Tampa Bay or Philadelphia. No team has won the Cup with a losing home record since the trophy became the possession of the NHL in 1927. The closest a champion has come to doing so were those 2000 Devils, who went 6-5 at home. If the Flames lose tonight but win Game7 in San Jose, the best they could finish at home would be 6-6.

While wackiness reigns out West, where the home teams are 21-19, everything is as expected back East. Heading into Game5 last night in Tampa, the top-seeded Lightning were 5-2 at home and the third-seeded Flyers 7-1. Eastern home teams were 25-13 overall.

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