As spectators of sporting events we often have the urge to yell, shout, boo, clap or make any other type of noise we deem necessary to let somebody know just how we are feeling. It might be the common double-syllabic, repetitious chant using the opposing goaltenders first or last name in hopes they let in a soft one on the stick side. Perhaps it's the jeering directed toward the Sean Avery's of the world, the opposition fan who won't sit down or the referee that must have forgotten his whistle in the locker room. All in good fun of course. And we've all patiently watched the puck seemingly travel in slow motion from point to point on a powerplay as we yell "shooooot" every five seconds, and when the puck finally goes in, we are high-fiving anybody close saying see what happens when they listen.
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The guy in the last row dangerously close to falling due to the slippery combination of spilt beverages and peanut shells has to know that his cry for a penalty can't be heard. But as a collective group of 20,000 strong the feelings that cascade down upon the rink are heard and can change the dynamics of a game. In football, it is frequently known as the 12th man. Ask New York Giants fans and I'm sure they don't mind that the team won just three of their eight home games this past season, yet when away from the Meadowlands went a combined 11-1 including their four playoff victories culminating in a Super Bowl win. How important is that extra voice?
As the NHL enters the last few weeks of the season, only five teams currently have a better winning percentage away from their own building. Four of those teams (Montreal, Boston, Philadelphia and San Jose) would make the playoffs today while Phoenix is outside looking in. Recent history would suggest that these teams are probably not going to make much of a run at Lord Stanley.
Since the 2003 playoffs the eventual Stanley Cup champion has gone 41-10 at home during the playoffs. By comparison the Stanley Cup runner-up has posted a 28-14 record at home during the same four-year playoff span. Since the 2000-01 season, four of the last six cup finals have gone to a seventh game. Whether it was Ray Bourque finally getting to lift the cup over his head in Colorado in 2001 or the remarkable run made by the eighth seeded Edmonton Oilers only to fall short in Carolina to an outstanding performance by a rookie goaltender in 2006, the home team has won every time. Maybe it is a coincidence. Maybe it was the setting, or maybe it just could have been the energy generated by thousands of fans that were just as eager to see a championship as every player on the ice.
Home truly is where the heart is; The heart of the players, coaches and staff. The passion the fans bring to the stadium for those crucial games. The players feed off the energy and vice versa. So maybe next time you sit down between some other hockey crazies from your town during a playoff game, take some time to look around and feel the passion because it does not get any better.
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