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Canada provides NHL with exemption for Montreal Canadiens in Stanley Cup semifinals

The NHL has to figure out what to do if Canada maintains its travel restrictions when the Stanley Cup Playoffs advance to the semifinals.

The Washington Capitals warm up before Game Five of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs against the Boston Bruins at Capital One Arena on May 23, 2021 in Washington, DC. Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images

UPDATE: The Canadian government has granted the NHL an exemption for the Canadian team that will be playing in the Stanley Cup semifinals, per the Washington Post. The Montreal Canadiens eliminated the Winnipeg Jets in the second round to advance to the semis. The Canadiens and any US-based opponents will be able to travel back and forth for their series, with some restrictions in place.

When teams based in the United States play in Canada, their coronavirus-related restrictions will be similar to those in the 2020 postseason, when the playoffs were staged in two hub cities, Edmonton and Toronto. Canadian Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino said in a statement that teams will face modified quarantines, stay in a bubble environment and undergo daily coronavirus testing.

During their stays in Canada, teams will not be permitted to leave their designated bubble, which will include their hotel and the arena. There will be no shared facilities and no contact with the general public. Teams will arrive and depart Canada via private transportation.

The 2021 NHL Playoffs are rapidly moving through the first round and as teams clinch a spot in the second round, the league has a decision to make soon. Where will the Canadian team be able to play when the semifinals arrive? The league has informed the Canadian government it needs an answer by June 1 so it can plan travel appropriately.

The NHL had to make changes to its traditional team alignment and playoff structure due to COVID-19. Canada continues to require individuals quarantine when they travel to Canada from outside the country. Any traveler entering Canada must quarantine for a minimum of 14 days even if they are vaccinated. That is not conducive to a traditional hockey schedule, and so the league realigned to have a Canada-only division. The seven Canadian teams comprised the North division and the remaining 24 teams were split up in the Central, East, and West divisions.

Once the Stanley Cup Playoffs arrived, the four rounds were split into divisional and non-divisional play. The top four teams in each division earned a playoff berth and are playing amongst themselves in the first two rounds. The No. 1 team faced the No. 4 team and the No. 2 team faced the No. 3 team in the first round. The two winners will square off in the second round.

Once the second round concludes, one team from each division will advance to the Stanley Cup Semifinals. At that point, the teams will be re-seeded based on regular season record for the final two rounds. The Canadian winner of the North division will have to play a US-based team in the semifinals, with Game 1 coming sometime in the middle of June. If the travel restrictions remain in place, the NHL will likely go with a neutral site for the semifinal series involving the North division winner. The same would potentially have to happen for the Stanley Cup Finals if the Canadian team advances.