For my money, the best commercial ever made is one that airs each year when schoolchildren return from their summer break, featuring overjoyed parents running and dancing (as their children mope) inside a business supply store Â– with Christmas cornerstone Â“It’s The Most Wonderful Time Of The YearÂ” serving as a soundtrack.
I know I feel that same type of unmitigated rapture at the start of the NHL’s regular season, mainly for the buoyant sense of hope it brings all 30 teams. To tell you the truth, I’m afflicted enough that I’d prefer the calendar year commence in October.
My second-favorite time of year is the start of April, when the playoff stretch drive can stretch no more, and the premium on-ice sacrifices begin. It’s when 16 teams get to dream a little bigger; when seconds feel like centuries; when reputations crystallize and crumble.
It’s for every last proverbial one of the proverbial marbles, so every success is amplified, and every mistake autopsied. And this year, perhaps more than any before it, the stakes have never seemed higher.
The post-season won’t commence for a few days, but we’ve had playoff-type games for the better part of the last two weeks. As well, there’s a very real possibility the Montreal Canadiens and Toronto Maple Leafs will battle for the last Eastern Conference playoff berth on the final day of both their schedules.
Now, an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre typically sounds like a cross between Marcel Marceau and Teller from Penn & Teller, but if the standings allow for the drama, there will be no better place for a hockey fan than inside that arena Saturday night.
(Unfortunately, this hockey fan won’t be there. Instead, I’ll be perhaps the only person on the face of the earth watching the Toronto Marlies take on the Hamilton Bulldogs in exciting American League action. Yes, I have to be there. No, I couldn’t get someone to cover for me. Yes, it’s making my ulcer act up just thinking about it.)
It’s more than just a winner-take-all clash between legendary franchises that’s making these days so much fun. It’s also got to do with widely perceived parity, with the improbable runs of the Carolina Hurricanes and Edmonton Oilers a year ago, with no clear-cut frontrunner for the Cup.
On that last point, quite the opposite is true. In fact, it’s no stretch to say you could take any playoff-bound Western Conference team and make a very good case for them to start quizzing civic authorities about ideal championship parade routes.
In Vancouver, Roberto Luongo has been so dominant and Hart-worthy, he’s on the verge of being canonized as the patron saint of puck-stopping. In Calgary, Miikka Kiprusoff is rounding into form at just the right time. In Minnesota, Marian Gaborik is converting cynics into sycophants since returning from injury.
Both the Ducks and Sharks have struggled through treacherous waters at different points in the season, but teams aren’t exactly angling to take them on in the first round. The Predators and Red Wings each have their soft spots, but Peter Forsberg and Nicklas Lidstrom have a penchant for making dweebs out of doubters. And the Stars, flying low on the radar despite a defense corps I think is unmatched, are my dark horse team.
The optimism doesn’t end east of Windsor, though. Would you want to bet against Martin Brodeur and Devils GM/coach/chaplain/social convenor/blacksmith/artist-in-residence Lou Lamoriello? Did the Buffalo Sabres teach us nothing last year, when the only opponent they succumbed to was the injury bug?
Last but certainly not least, let us not forget the Ottawa Senators (finally playing with the confidence and poise a playoff powerhouse needs), the Pittsburgh Penguins (under no pressure to win anything, yet talented enough to win everything) and the emotional boost bound for that final seed in the East.
You sleuths out there have probably figured out I’m not especially hot to trot for the Thrashers, Rangers and Lightning. Kindly direct all pertaining correspondence to M. Brophy, c/o The Hockey News.
Whatever your leanings may be, there’s little doubt the games ahead have the potential to be remembered for a long time. Considering some of the ugly optics the NHL has projected this year, that’s reason enough for celebration.
Adam Proteau’s Screen Shots appears regularly – including every Thursday – only on thehockeynews.com. Want to take a shot at Adam Proteau? You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our Ask Adam feature. And be sure to check out Proteau’s Blog for daily insight on the world of hockey.
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