The NHL received approval from the Canadian government to allow for cross-border travel for the final two rounds of the Stanley Cup playoffs as needed, the league announced Sunday.
With strict coronavirus travel restrictions and health protocols, Canadian NHL teams have only played within their own division during the regular season, and the playoff format maintained that structure. But starting with the semifinal round, teams based in Canada and the United States can travel back and forth between arenas, with a series of conditions.
“The National Hockey League is very appreciative of the decision by the Canadian government and the Federal health officials to allow the Canadian team that advances to the Stanley Cup Semifinals and, potentially, the Final, to host games in their own rinks,” NHL Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly said in a statement.
The teams participating in cross-border travel will be subjected to enhanced protocols, the league said. The border between the U.S. and Canada has been closed to nonessential travel since March 19, 2020. And currently, travelers arriving in Canada must partake in a 14-day quarantine.
The Canadian government is now exempting NHL teams from those rules, although protocols are still in place. Among the protocols are daily coronavirus tests, a modified bubble for the U.S.-based team and arrival via a private jet. Teams visiting Canada will be mainly limited to the hotel and rink, reducing interaction with the public as much as possible.
The modified format of the season separated franchises into geographic-based divisions, with three groupings in the U.S. and one in Canada. There was no interdivisional play allowed, and the first two rounds of the playoffs also took place between teams within those original divisions.
The semifinal round will offer teams the chance to hit a new opponent, though. The winner between the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens can now host playoff games against a team from the U.S., as well as travel to their opponent’s home arena — either the Colorado Avalanche or Vegas Golden Knights.
In other leagues, such as MLB and MLS, Canadian-based franchises have temporarily relocated to the U.S. to avoid travel restrictions between the countries.