The big stories this time of year are the NFL Draft coming up tomorrow and the NBA Playoffs. It never ceases to amaze me how the NHL Playoffs don’t get the amount of press as the NFL and the NBA. If you have never been to an NHL game in person and if you haven’t been watching the first round of the playoffs this year, you are missing out. There is no sport that keeps you on the edge of your seat more than the NHL during the playoffs. I watched the Blues/Blackhawks game on Monday night, it was a game 7, so it was win or go home. The Blues got on the board early and set the momentum for the entire game. They end up winning 3-2 despite a furious effort by the Hawks at the end of the game, including an unbelievable shot that hit the left post, scooted along the goal line, hit the right post and stayed out of goal. If you cant get excited about playoff hockey you don’t have a heartbeat. Whether your team is in it or not, its fun to watch, offers the most sports drama and keeps you glued to the TV unlike any NBA game or waiting for the next pick in the draft could ever do.
The second round begins tonight with the Tampa Bay Lightning (GO BOLTS) facing the NY Islanders. The Lightning are limping into this series with injuries and after effects of the flu ravaging the team. Their leader Steven Stamkos is out recovering from surgery to remove a blood clot in his shoulder and defenseman Anton Stralman recovering from a broken leg, and it is unclear if either of these veterans will be available for this series. The depth of the Bolts will be the key, as will the play of goalie Ben Bishop. Tampa has had 5 days to rest after outing the Red Wings in the first round for the second year in a row (sorry, not sorry Scooter), while the Isles have had just 48 hours to prepare and rest for the opening game of this series. The Islanders will lean on the play of John Tavares, who had 5 goals and 4 assists in the first round against the Panthers. Goalie Thomas Greiss was stellar in the first round and will need to continue his solid play against a faster, more experienced Lighting team. I feel this series goes the distance, with the Bolts winning game 7 at home to move on to the Eastern Conference Finals for the second straight year.
The other matchups in the second round are Pittsburgh vs Washington, St Louis vs Dallas and the final series in the second round has yet to be determined, but it will be San Jose vs either Anaheim or Nashville, who forced a game 7 Monday night with a Double OT thriller. In the Penguins-Caps series I like the Capitals in 6, and the focus of this series will be the veterans Alex Ovechkyn of the Capitals and Sydney Crosby of the Penguins. Both of these players are probably the biggest stars in the league, and this series may well be the best series of the second round. I am looking forward to seeing these two teams beat the crap out of each other and then limp into the finals where they will be lambs to the slaughter for the Lightning (no bias there huh?). The Western conference matchups are exciting, and I’ll take the Stars over the Blues and San Jose over either one of the Preds or Ducks.
If you love drama, if you enjoy intense action, and if you are a sports fan, then Playoff Hockey is the best. I love this time of year because of the way these playoffs play out each year. There is no shortage of excitement, and these athletes are probably the best conditioned athletes in pro sports. If you doubt me, then put on a pair of skates, 15 pounds of padding, put a big long stick in your hand.. and work a 3 inch round piece of vulcanized rubber down a sheet of ice and try and put it in a 5ft wide by 4 ft high Goal with a guy bigger than an NFL linebacker standing in your way wearing 25 pounds of padding and holding an even BIGGER stick than you.