Stanley Cup Finals: Should The NHL Switch To A 2-3-2 Playoff Series Format?

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Stanley Cup Finals: Should The NHL Switch To A 2-3-2 Playoff Series Format?
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

With their 3-1 victory in Los Angeles Wednesday night, the New Jersey Devils gave themselves a slight extension to their 2011-12 home slate and pulled the Stanley Cup Finals nearly 2,800 miles back east to Newark.

If they can pull the improbable feat of forcing a sixth and seventh game, this will mean two additional back-and-forth zips between the two coasts. That goes for both of the teams and the trophy they are pursuing.

Unless the Kings bring an earlier end to the series and the season, there is a chance that they, the Devils and the Cup could each cover well more than 8,000 miles in a span of a week, taking three back-and-forth flights between each other’s cities.

At least they aren't last year’s finalists from Boston and Vancouver. By the time that series reached its limit, the Bruins and Canucks had covered at least 1,000 extra miles, tinkering on 9,500, between Games 4 and 7.

But what if the NHL made like the NBA and Major League Baseball and sandwiched three championship round contests, at the lower-seeded team’s venue, between two pairs of games at the higher seed?

In that event, the Devils and Kings would be gearing up for Game 5 at the Staples Center on Saturday, which would culminate a good six-plus days in southern California for both parties.

If the Devils prolonged the series, they would be going back to Newark for the balance of the season. The Kings would be checking in for up to three or four nights before returning to Los Angeles, with or without the Cup, and ultimately dispersing for the offseason.

As opposed to the reality, this would mean two fewer flights and 5,000-plus fewer miles traveled for both of the Cup-chasers, as well as the Cup-keeper.

Under the alternative format last year, the Bruins and Canucks could have been spared over 6,000 miles. And the trophy, upon Boston’s tying the series at two games apiece, could have gone straight to Vancouver knowing it would not be needed until at least Game 6.

Granted, considering the Cup’s hectic summer schedule, the back-and-forth is probably nothing for the likes of Phil Pritchard. But somebody has to pay for those plane tickets and hotel rooms, and longer stays in one city, combined with fewer flights, always make for a looser belt in the travel budget.

“But what about the integrity of home-ice advantage?” some may be inclined to ask.

What home-ice advantage? Each of the last four champions have clinched the Cup on enemy property. That includes a pair of Game 7s in 2009 and 2011, even after the home team won each of the first six games in both cases.

Through four games of this year’s final, the visitors are 3-1 with the only home triumph being L.A.’s 4-0 shutout in Game 3.

The notion of the higher seed earning the right to host Game 5, when a series is deadlocked and one team has a chance to push the adversary to the brink, is wholly understandable. But the 2011 Canucks and 2009 Red Wings are the last two teams to have utilized that privilege, and it didn’t pay off for either of them.

Already, in the 2012 playoffs, there have been four Game 7s, all coming after a 2-2 deadlock and a split of Games 5 and 6. In two cases, the road team prevailed and in two cases the eventual victor needed to rally from a 3-2 series deficit.

In other sports, the last NBA final to go the distance was two years ago when the Boston Celtics took a commanding 3-2 lead with the help of their home court. But when the series shuffled back to the Staples Center, they whiffed on two consecutive opportunities to close out the host Los Angeles Lakers.

It was the same story last autumn when the Texas Rangers took a 3-2 lead over the St. Louis Cardinals with a Game 5 triumph in Arlington. Yet within another four days, the Cards had won back-to-back bouts at Busch Stadium to claim the World Series.

This should not be taken so much as evidence that the 2-3-2 format guarantees help for the higher seed more than the 2-2-1-1-1. Rather, it merely serves to discredit the merit of giving three of four prospective tiebreakers to a higher seed.

Under the MLB and NBA system, if the higher seed were to falter in five games, it would be their own fault for losing one or both of the first two games in their venue.

If the NHL had this system, the Kings would have a chance to teach the Devils that harsh lesson on Saturday.

By the same token, it is an appropriate and worthwhile challenge for a lower-seeded team to be given two straight chances to cement its championship in an opposing arena after raising a 3-2 upper hand. No scenario could pose a better test of that club’s proficiency away from home or of the opponent’s assertiveness in its own mansion.

There is nothing outrageous about the status quo Stanley Cup format. Assuming the NHL sticks with it, there is no more reason to riot over it than there is over the result of the championship series itself. It can work fine either way.

That being said, the 2-3-2 alternative would just be slightly more sensible and much more financially practical. A switch would not amount any sacrifices, only gains.

It is something worth bringing up amidst the upcoming efforts to renew the CBA.

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