If you are a real hockey fan, there should be very little to get in your way of some serious couch time these April nights. Because, there's some really good hockey being played right now.
To wit: we've already seen...
One of the most determined comebacks in NHL history, by the Chicago Blackhawks, as the Vancouver Canucks victory parade planning has been brought to a dead halt;
possibly the last NHL game to ever be played in Glendale, Arizona, as the Detroit Red Wings showed why they are still the REAL force to be reckoned with in the Western Conference, dismantling the Phoenix Coyotes in four straight games;
that hot goaltending still can rule a playoff series, as Jonathan Quick's stand-on-your-head efforts still have the Los Angeles Kings in the series against the San Jose Sharks;
that the Washington Capitals have indeed improved their defense, as they dispatched the New York Rangers in five games, the last two losses of which can directly be attributed to Marian Gaborik, who really has to ask himself what has happened since his move to Gotham;
that the best offense really is a GREAT defense. Just ask the Buffalo Sabres, who have the new 'America's Team', the Philadelphia Flyers, on the ropes going into today's nationally-televised game at Buffalo;
that the Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadiens haven't beaten each other into a pulp yet, with all the hard hits, high-intensity up-and-down skating, and leftover hatred that you USUALLY have in a playoff series;
that the Pittsburgh Penguins have survived the series with the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite no Sid the Kid, no 'Geno' Malkin, and very little help (at least in Game 5) for their beleagured goaltending corps. Anytime you place a 'snowman' on the other team's scoreboard, you wonder what you did right, and want to just keep on doing it;
and, finally, one of the 'snooz-iest' series ever, that series between the Nashville Predators and the Anaheim Ducks, a series which although going into Game 6 today (late afternoon) at Nashville, has drawn very little attention, and next-to-no national TV/Cable coverage. Not that there hasn't been some good hockey played (Bobby Ryan's goal and Jordin Tootoo's sweet game 4 rebound of his own shot are two of this playoff season's best goals) and some vicious hitting (the Game 4 take-out of Nashville's Martin Erat shows that, indeed, the Ducks haven't changed their ways) but this series hasn't captured the imagination of the hockey world.
So, if you are a fan of any of the teams who didn't make the playoffs, you wonder to yourself: 'Would my team have played at this level during these last 10-12 days?', and in most cases you say 'No' and hope that the teams who didn't make the playoffs want to get better. Teams that don't make the playoffs sell hope, because that's all they have TO sell. The fact of the matter is that teams who don't make the post-season don't make money. Three of the five most financially-distressed teams in the NHL (Florida, Atlanta, Dallas) did not make the playoffs this past season. The most financially-distressed team (Phoenix) went out in four straight games in the first round. And how many other teams, teams we haven't heard about in this context, are in the hole as much as these teams are?
Does the NHL have two schedules ready? One with the Phoenix Coyotes in it, and one with that team in Winnipeg? And, when will they release that schedule? Where will the Coyotes franchise be when the puck drops in October?
A lot more questions right now in the NHL than there are answers. So for now, shove all that aside. Forget the financial battles, legal entanglements and who's ox is getting gored. Sit down on the couch, and enjoy some of the best hockey of the season. After all, that's why they play the games. To see who wins, and who loses. Who gets to raise Lord Stanley's hardware in six weeks' time. And who's hopes get dashed on the rocks of the playoffs.
That's why they play the games.
Happy Easter, everyone.