If there was ever a debate as to which sport holds the title for highest amount of excitement, drama, and intensity come playoff time, the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs ends all discussion.
Where else can you find this kind of entertainment? The Boston Bruins, down by three goals to their divisional rival Toronto Maple Leafs, come back to force an overtime, and end the game with a sudden death goal in Game 7. This all happened with two goals coming 31 seconds apart under the two minute mark of the final regulation period. The Bruins rose from the depths of playoff defeat and, in the end, shook hands as winners.
That was only the exclamation point to a playoff round full of action.
Out West, the kings of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs proved they are very capable of defending their crown using the same formula that helped them roll through last year’s playoffs as an eighth seed: timely scoring and dynamite goaltending. The Los Angeles Kings will face their intrastate rivals from the North. The San Jose Sharks, a sixth seed, provided the only series sweep of the opening round when they dismantled the Vancouver Canucks. As hockey continues to grow in popularity in the Golden State, only one team will emerge victorious in the battle of California.
The Anaheim Ducks lost in seven games to the Detroit Red Wings in one of the most hard-fought series in Stanley Cup playoff lore. Of the seven games, four went into overtime with the seemingly ageless Red Wings winning three of those contests. Now the Wings will look to continue their quest for one more Stanley Cup before the franchise’s championship window has closed.
To advance to the conference finals, the Red Wings will face an old rival dating back to 1926 when the two teams made up one-third of the league. The Chicago Blackhawks have dominated all year, gaining a point in their first 24 regular season games en route to the President’s Trophy. They followed that up with a 4-1 series win over the Minnesota Wild and now look forward to a meeting with Detroit as they continue their journey towards their second Stanley Cup in three years.
In the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins survived a scare from the New York Islanders who outplayed the heavily favored Pens for most of the season. That all went out the window when Brooks Orpik’s only playoff goal in 78 career playoff games ended the Isles’ season in overtime of Game 6. They will face an Ottawa Senators team that is out for blood after accusing Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke of purposely slicing the achilles heel of Erik Karlsson earlier in the season.
The playoff rivalry has already been chiseled over the last six years with the two teams now meeting in the playoffs for the fourth time in that span. The Senators rolled over the Montreal Canadiens in five games. But the question now remains, do they have enough to defeat a Penguins team that contains the best player in the league, the reigning MVP, a Norris Trophy finalist, a forty-goal scorer and a future hall of fame inductee?
Meanwhile, the aforementioned Bruins will face the New York Rangers in what will already be a clash between two Original Six teams that have a deep-seeded rivalry in all four major sports. Can the Bruins build off their epic Game 7 comeback or will goaltender Henrik Lundqvist shut them down as he did against the Washington Capitals in a Game 7 series of the opening round?
Whatever the outcome, it will be theatre for sure.
We’ve seen teams lose games in the dying seconds of a period and lose series with unbelievable goals in overtime.
We’ve witnessed electrifying goals, bone-crushing body checks, and miraculous saves.
Despite being the least paid players among the four major sports, hockey players have shown that winning trumps all and the heart to pursue each and every win requires an affordable cost. Goalies have lost teeth, players have seen their own blood spilled on the ice, and players have had their faces altered to prevent a goal. All of this effort comes for a Stanley Cup that they, the players, aren’t even allowed to keep. The only thing they get is a ring, and their name on a trophy that is 120 years old.
So sit back and enjoy the greatest tournament that sports have to offer. The dedication, sacrifice, drama, excitement and entertainment cannot be matched.