Thursday, April 22, 2010

NHL needs a Moniker....and some American Fans

David Stern has such a strangle hold over what goes on in the NBA, that some have joked that the NBA stands for the No Balls Association. The NFL has curtailed all celebrations, leading to it being known as the No Fun League. Now that the NCAA has banned any self-expression whatsoever, one clever sportswriter nicknamed it the No Creative Athletes Allowed. While MLB's moniker has nothing to do with its initials, Bud Selig's autobiography would be titled "No balls, One strike."

Meanwhile, the NHL really has no moniker....or fans south of Leamington, Ontario. And that really is a shame. The NHL playoffs began 8 days ago. And barely anyone noticed. And that is a travesty. I am a baseball guy. I am a self-proclaimed baseball geek. I grew up loving and playing baseball. When I was old enough, I literally tattooed baseball on my body. That said, there is no greater playoff system than the NHL's. It is two months of grueling, hard hitting, intense, edge-of-your-seat, non-stop action fun. Overtime playoff hockey is the single most intense and white knuckle action in all of sports. Sure, the NFL used to be "sudden death" too. But when you have to bring on your 5'6", 125 lb kicker to ice the game, is it really sudden death? The NHL playoffs in overtime - well, there truly is nothing like it in all of sports.

Last Sunday Night, while most of the eastern seaboard slept, the Colorado Avalanche and the San Jose Sharks were locked up in an absolute classic. After 60 minutes of regulation, neither team had scored a goal. But it wasn't a boring 0-0 game. Some good fights, and San Jose had peppered Colorado goaltender, Craig Anderson with 50 shots. Colorado, by contrast, had only mustered 15 shots on goal against Sharks netminder, Evgeni Nabakov. Less than a minute into overtime, the Sharks were simply trying to clear the puck behind their own goal to set up a rush up ice. San Jose defenseman Dan Boyle hit the puck seemingly to go behind the net to his fellow defenseman and they would begin to set up their offensive play. Unfortunately, he hit the puck off the heel of his stick, and the puck, rather than sliding behind the net, slid right through the goal mouth and past an unsuspecting Nabakov. Goal Colorado. Game over. Just like that. Faster than a Mike Tyson fight. And not one Colorado player was even in the picture when it happened. The camera crew had to pan down ice just to see the shocked players celebrating. And then pan back to the San Jose goal to see the crushed Sharks. And that is playoff hockey in overtime.

Some overtimes last forever....and ever....and ever. In 2000, the Pittsburgh Penguins won the first two games of their series with the heavily favored Philadelphia Flyers in Philadelphia. The series shifted back to Pittsburgh for game 3. The game kept going and going and going. Even the energizer bunny fell asleep. In the 5th overtime (that would be the 8th period - more than 140 game minutes later) the Flyers scored the winning goal. And used that momentum to not lose another game in the series against Pittsburgh.

In the 2008 Stanley Cup Finals, the Red Wings and Penguins played a classic 3-overtime game. Before the third overtime began, NBC analyst Pierre Maguire interviewed then-Penguins forward Petr Sykora. Sykora informed him that the Penguins ran out of food in their locker room and had ordered a Pizza. Maguire joked, "from Little Caesar's?" (Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch also owns Little Caesar's Pizza). "No", Sykora said, "we made sure to order from Domino's." Sykora also told Maguire that this was just the energy he needed and he would be scoring the game winning goal in the third overtime. Less than 5 minutes into the third overtime, the Penguins won. On a goal by Sykora.

That's playoff hockey. And this year's playoffs have been spectacular thus far. Not that anyone has noticed. ALL eight first round series' were tied 1-1 after they each had played 2 games. And, the first 8 games of this year's playoffs were ALL decided by one goal (with three of the games going to overtime). That, my friends, is an edge of your seat thrill ride.

The playoffs resume tonight, with defending Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh looking to advance to the second round. These playoffs have been tremendous thus far. I highly encourage everyone to watch and be captivated by them. Well, the 40% of America that gets the versus channel, anyway.

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