This year, sports fans are witnessing (or if they aren’t, they should be…) the most exciting playoff season that the National Hockey League has seen since the 2001 season that saw Ray Bourque finally win Lord Stanley’s Cup. This is the time that all fans, be they the traditional fan base of the original six and of ageless wonders such as Chris Chelios or fans of the “next generation” and superstars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Ovechkin should rejoice and unite as this is the year that their beloved sport can wake up from its long hibernation and win the hearts of millions of sports fans. The post-lockout era of the NHL has much to look forward to, and this post-season has seen every storyline that both the owners and the NHLPA have longed to see. This is the time to be proud to be a hockey fan.The 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs has already seen too many storylines for it to count. The sport has rekindled the magic that kept North American sports fans at its heels since the aforementioned 2001 Stanley Cup Playoffs and the 1994 season that saw the New York Rangers put an end to “the curse” that was placed on their franchise. The sport can indeed rejoice as the fans of old school and new school can celebrate the reawakening of some of hockey’s long-lost traditions and hopefully, the birth of new ones.
Four of the six original six teams qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs where two of these teams secured the top-seeds of their respective conferences (the Detroit Red Wings and the Montreal Canadiens). The first round saw match-ups of two foes who are all too familiar with each other, the Canadiens and the Boston Bruins. This series was a raging battle where Montreal stormed out of the gates to take a commanding 3-1 series lead. The Bruins’ resolve was not to be questioned as they came back to tie the series before the Canadiens, led by sensational rookie goaltender Carey Price, were able to beat back the challenge in the upstart Bruins in Game 7. The other two original six teams also triumphed in their respective first round series where the Red Wings were able to hold off the high-octane Nashville Predators in six games and the New York Rangers were able to defeat the perennial powerhouse, New Jersey Devils in five games.
One can certainly never forget the rise of the superstars who have defined the sport and have helped rekindled its magic in the post-lockout era of the NHL. Last year’s NHL Most Valuable Player, Sidney Crosby, and his Pittsburgh Penguins also led by super sophomores Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury have stormed to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001 after winning eight of their first nine games in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They will face the Philadelphia Flyers, who have rebounded remarkably well since finishing at the bottom of the cellar last year in the Eastern Conference. The Flyers, led by goaltender Martin Biron, were able to turn back the Washington Capitals who were led by Alexander Ovechkin, this year’s front-runner for the Hart Memorial Trophy for the NHL’s Most Valuable Player. It can only be hoped that Crosby and Ovechkin will be able to carry their success from this year and the last into the future where the two superstars of “the next generation” of great hockey players will be able to face off against one another in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The return of Peter Forsberg and Adam Foote to the Colorado Avalanche may have inspired the outstanding play of goaltending of Jose Theodore, who returned to playoff and MVP form in the Avalanche’s first round series against the Minnesota Wild. The Avalanche’s return to the post-season coincided with the rise of the Dallas Stars, who had their way against the Anaheim Ducks in the first round, but struggled to close out the San Jose Sharks, this year’s popular pick to win the Stanley Cup. The Stars were finally able to finish off the Sharks in six games after a quadruple overtime thriller that witnessed unbelievable, game-breaking goaltending on the part of Marty Turco and Evgeni Nabokov. The Stars will face the Detroit Red Wings, who triumphed over the Red Wings in four games. Undoubtedly, the return of the Red Wings, the Stars, and the Avalanche to the Western Conference Semifinals since 2000 brought back classic storylines and tales of old rivalries that spawned conversations and nostalgia for fans of the older generation of players in the NHL, such as Joe Sakic, Chris Chelios, and Mike Modano.
WHAT WE HAVE TO LOOK FORWARD TO
This mixture of old school and new school has rekindled the magic and popularity of hockey that the NHL desperately needs. With the advent of NHL on high definition, fans are able to follow the play and the puck more easily, which in turn should increase viewership for what is already an already exciting Stanley Cup Playoff season. Whether your team is one of the four that has advanced to the conference finals or not, you still play a crucial role in helping see that the NHL keeps the ball rolling on the most success that it’s had in ages. Wear your favorite team’s jersey and go to your buddy’s house with a six-pack to watch the young, talented Penguins duke it out against the traditionally gritty Flyers. Go out to the bars and pubs with a group of friends to watch a couple of old foes in Mike Modano and Chris Chelios engage in an old-school grudge match. Explain your lack of sleep to your co-workers and boss because you were up watching a triple-overtime thriller that went into the wee hours of morning. Don’t just support your team; support the sport. This year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs is by far the most exciting season that we have witnessed in a long time…and you can still be the answer to help bringing back the magic that is hockey.