- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 19, 2003

TAMPA, Fla. The only reason to bother contesting for a division championship in the NHL is that the winner is guaranteed home-ice advantage for at least the first round.

But why struggle and fight and claw for what is, at least for the moment, an absolutely meaningless accomplishment, one that might even be harmful? Before last night's games, home teams had won 17 games compared to 18 for visiting teams. Five of the 16 teams, all of which have played at least four games, have yet to win once at home.

"It's not just this series. It's gone right through the league," said Tampa Bay coach John Tortorella, whose Lightning were drilled in front of the home fans in Games 1 and 2 to open this series, then returned the favor to the Washington Capitals at MCI Center.

"I can't explain it," he continued. "This isn't the only year it's happened. It happens quite a bit in hockey. I don't have an answer."

Last season in the Stanley Cup Finals, visitors won three of five games. In the conference finals, the home team lost nine of 13 games.

"When you're on the road, you're a group, a team, and I'm sure that has something to do with it," Tortorella said. "Even when we talk about distractions, I don't think that's the big deal. I think it's understanding how to play with composure in your building versus the away building."

Washington has won just two of its last 11 home playoff games.

"I'm just like you guys I'm a little surprised we couldn't win a home game," said the Caps' Bruce Cassidy, a rookie coach who was showing his unfamiliarity with Washington's history of postseason trauma.

Many reasons have been offered over many years about why the myth of a home-ice advantage continues. Most have to do with paying more attention to playing at a higher finesse level for the home fans instead of continuing to pay proper attention to the opposition.

"So far the road team has scored the first goal in every game, and that kind of takes the crowd out of it a little bit," Caps defenseman Ken Klee said. "Maybe the home team wants to do more in front of its fans. We played well at home all year, and a lot of that was scoring the first goal, getting the crowd into it.

"I don't think I need to change my home routine to think that's what we need to win," he continued. "So, no, I don't think distractions are the reason. We played 41 home games, and our home record was good [24-13-2-2]. It's just that in this series, the home team has been trailing."

Olie Kolzig believes the team concept has a lot to do with it.

"Coming in here, we're a team we don't have to impress the home crowd," the goalie said. "If things aren't going well, you don't get booed, you just play your game. I think [the Lightning] were happy to come up to our place; they were getting booed pretty good late in their games here. They adjusted [on the road], got the goals they needed and won the games."


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