Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Speaking of The Stanley Cup Playoffs and More. . .

So much for quick timely blog directly following the end of playoffs this year, huh?

Apologies aside - won't even try to make excuses - let's take a trip back and think about what a great Stanley Cup playoffs and Final we were treated to this year. It was simply fantastic. The most enjoyable I've experienced in quite a while.

My Favorite Shocking/Interesting/Amazing Moments of the Playoffs:

* Sharks made it out of the 2nd Round! It looked shaky there for a while, yes, there was an ugly game winning goal for the opposing team (courtesy Boyle and Nabokov), yes, but somehow they made it one step closer to the promised land - before getting swept by Chicago.

*Speaking of the eventual Stanley Cup Champs, they didn't look so confident in Round 1, did they? Sometimes I truly think Round 1 can be the toughest for some teams to win. How many times did Detroit barely make it out of the quarter finals only to sail the rest of the way. However, in this case, I truly feel it was a situation where no one gave Nashville any credit. Yes, the Hawks needed time to find their legs, but the Predators are a much better team than people expected.

*Speaking of teams that many knew nothing about for most of this season - the Phoenix Coyotes! Look, it didn't go the way I wanted, and perhaps the way it should have. But how wonderful was that series? Phoenix completely dominating Detroit on two national Sunday afternoon games, and the one in particular where Petr Prucha took #1 Star honors. The whole series that everyone thought Detroit would dominate. And they did dominate...Game 7. But I'd take a 7-game well fought series over a sweep any day. Regardless of how it ended too quickly, seriously now, just how wonderful was it that they were even in the playoffs.

*Speaking of how wonderful it was for a team to be in the playoffs. How nice was it to see les fabled, Les Habs, back in the playoffs and back with a surprising vengeance that perhaps no one saw coming. First knocking off the Capitals - which I think maybe .01% of all hockey fans would have predicted, maybe - and then knocking out the defending champ Penguins - in a moment that may have just ranked #1 of the entire playoffs for me, the Canadiens made a story where there quite possibly was none. That's what makes the NHL playoffs great. Key injuries should have kept them down, but big game performances by a now healthier Michael Cammalleri and a never-given-credit-until-you-need-him-and-he-carries-you Jaroslav Halak made the Habs a genuine force this spring. Some of those games that Halak had were performances for the ages. And unless you are a Leafs fan or a Bruins fan, why wouldn't you like to see that from one of hockey's storied franchises.

*Speaking of hockey's storied franchises, the New York Rangers. Oh wait. What? They didn't make the playoffs this year? Oh, silly me. I almost forgot. That other team that they played on the last afternoon of the regular season won the final necessary point in a shootout and made the playoffs instead - (and went all the way to the Stanley Cup Final!)

*Speaking of I-Still-Can't-Believe-That-Happened, how about how that Bruins/Flyers match-up in the Conference Finals panned out. I mean whether you like or dislike either team or were just a non-biased observer - what a thing to see, a team coming back from 3-0 down to win a series. Many of us weren't alive for the previous two times this happened in hockey. And given how uncommon it really is, who knows when we will see it happen again? There is a reason it's only happened now 4 times in sports, and 3 times in hockey. Simply not easy to lose that type or lead or to take it back and win. Just isn't. And as much as Rangers fans may hate the Flyers, I still say, you have to tip your cap to them in this regard. They did something special. Something 3 times in history special. 1942 Maple Leafs. 1975 New York Islanders. 2010 Philadelphia Flyers. That's how history will read.

*And speaking of History Being Made! - congratulations to the 2010 Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks! We were treated to what was a highly entertaining Final, one I thoroughly enjoyed. And I enjoyed not just because it wasn't Detroit and Pittsburgh, again - although goodness knows I was thrilled this was the case - but because it had a crazy 6-5 game in Game 1, a tight 2-1 matchup in Game 2, an overtime win in Game 3, and another in Game 6 to award the Cup! Essentially a very even series. The Flyers had already made their history coming into the Final, but they couldn't overcome the 49 years of history the Blackhawks were clawing to overcome. Couldn't have asked for more and for the first time in a while it seems, I was right in predicting something - Hawks in 6!

More on the Final and what it means:

In the Blackhawks winning the Stanley Cup Final, it meant a couple things for our New York Rangers.

We all know that the Rangers famously held the longest Stanley Cup drought from 1940-1994 (54 years). Chicago had held the next longest - less infamous - drought from 1961-2010 (49 years). Now the Maple Leafs hold the dis-honor of longest drought from 1967-present (43 years and counting...)

With Chicago's 4th Stanley Cup, Chicago now ties the Rangers in Original-Six Cup winning mediocrity. (Les Habs lead the other way with 24, and then follows: Toronto - 13, Detroit - 11, Boston - 5). However, Chicago has 15 division championships to the Rangers 5. And considering Chicago has a much greater chance of winning the Cup this century, I'm going to give the nod to them as the more successful Original-Six franchise.

But hey, the Rangers still have Pride, Passion, AND Tradition, right?

Oh, what the heck. I'm still a fan. And I always will be. At the rate they are winning, I'll never run out of room for storing playoff and championship team merchandise, now will I? See - bright side!

And finally...

On the other bright side, I just feel this was such an entertaining playoffs and Final, and I couldn't have been happier to be a hockey fan. Everything went wonderfully (no thanks to Bettman & Co., who probably were crying when they wouldn't have Detroit and Pittsburgh again...even though ratings and merchandise sale and everything were higher this year!) and I didn't want it to end. I tried to watch as much hockey as I possibly could this year and I wanted to watch MORE. Was angry that I couldn't. And look forward to next year when I hopefully can watch even more.

From the start of the season (the Rangers happy time), to the World Juniors surprising win by the Americans over Canada, to the joy of Olympic hockey (four years sometimes seems much, much too long), to the end of the season (the Rangers scrape together and try time), and through to the final game of the Final - what an entertaining and amazing display of hockey we all enjoyed.

What more can you ask of your favorite sport? Getting to enjoy all this amazing hockey and still wanting more.

Hockey is in a great place right now, it really is. No question about it.