Fans gave the Carolina Hurricanes a standing ovation after their team bowed out of the second round of the playoffs in five games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The crowd of 16,000-plus did not get much to cheer about on the ice before the final horn sounded because the defending Stanley Cup champion Lightning kept the Hurricanes from scoring.
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“We’re slowly getting back used to this, but I think ultimately the way to try and keep the crowd down is don’t let their team score on you,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said.
Fans are back at varying levels for every team left in the NHL playoffs, and yet road teams are holding their own, winning just under half the games played so far. Players and coaches are enjoying the warmth and noise of having fans back after the 2020 bubble playoffs went on in cold, empty buildings.
With that comes the natural desire to silence a home crowd when on the road.
“If you take the fans out of it right away, your squad gets energy and momentum and that’s the whole goal,” Montreal defenseman Joel Edmundson said Thursday. “The crowds definitely help the home team especially in the playoffs, so the earlier you can take them out of it, the better it’s going to set up for you in the game.”
While goaltending has played a major role in the success of visiting teams, the biggest key has been scoring first. The road team has scored first in 23 of 32 victories through the first two rounds and trailed first in 22 of the 33 wins by the home team.
“If you can do that, maybe the crowds get a little bit nervous and in anticipation and they watch the clock wind down,” said Cooper, whose Lightning are 5-1 on the road. “But (if) you let the opposing team score goals, all it does is amp up the energy in the building.”
That energy doesn’t just benefit the home team. After skating in eerily silent rinks with piped-in noise for so many games, any crowd is a good crowd.
“It’s just really exciting to be around any crowd just because of what we’ve been through,” Boston winger Brad Marchand said. “Typically in playoff time it’s tough to go in an opposing team’s building and be in front of their crowd, but I think we get excited for it now just as much as the other team.”
Which team has the better goalie sometimes makes the difference. NBC Sports analyst Pierre McGuire credited Minnesota goaltender Cam Talbot for stealing the first playoff game with fans at Vegas and New York’s Semyon Varlamov for winning a game for the Islanders in Boston.
“That’s the goaltending thing,” McGuire said. “The biggest thing now moving forward will be that the crowds are electrifying.”
No matter the size. A Canadiens fan said in a clip that has gone viral during their run that “2,500 will feel like 25,000” at Bell Centre in Montreal, and players certainly appreciated it.
“When guys step on the ice and the rink full of fans, oh, my God, tears in my eyes,” Montreal defenseman Alexander Romanov said.
The Canadiens’ next game at either Vegas or Colorado with over 17,000 expected in attendance will be just their fifth game with any fans in the building this season and by far the biggest crowd they’ve played in front of. That’s quite the adjustment, though Islanders coach Barry Trotz wonders if the smaller crowd in Montreal will have an opposite effect on the opponent going back into a quieter atmosphere.
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“There could be quite a contrast,” Trotz said. “They’ll go from packed buildings to very few people in the building. That could be an advantage, I guess, for the Canadiens because they’ve gotten very used to it.”
Either Trotz’s Islanders or Cooper’s Lightning will only find out what that’s like if Montreal pulls the semifinal upset. Vegas coach Peter DeBoer knows from his previous two trips to the Cup Final that success on the road is vital.
“If you’re one of those teams left standing at the end in the Stanley Cup Final, you’ve found a way to win all kinds of different ways: home, road, coming from behind, leading, closing it out,” he said. “That’s the beauty of playoff hockey.”