Six months ago, most of us were sitting around (including yours truly) spewing disdain at the National Hockey League for the way the lockout was being handled. It seemed as if neither the league nor the players’ association cared a great deal – if at all – about finding a compromise and saving the season. Eventually they did but despite the agreement, fans were not so quick to forgive – and who can blame them?
For months, fans were essentially taken for a ride. A league they had supported unconditionally through thick and thin turned around and acted as if they did not even matter. Many fans were vehement that they would boycott the NHL and some actually lived up to that. For the many more that didn’t, however, they were in for a real treat when the abbreviated season kicked off.
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins got off to fantastic starts, the defending champion Los Angeles Kings found their way after a slow start, struggling stars like Alex Ovechkin rediscovered their form while John Tavares led a once-hapless New York Islanders franchise back into the playoffs. Even the Toronto Maple Leafs returned to the postseason. The biggest and most pleasant surprise may arguably be the outstanding play of the Chicago Blackhawks who began the season on a tear winning their first 24 games of the season.
Then the playoffs started and for those fans that were still adamant that they were boycotting the NHL, the stubbornness quickly subsided when the Boston Bruins made a historic Game 7 opening-round comeback against the Toronto Maple Leafs, when the New York Islanders gave the powerhouse Pittsburgh Penguins a run for their money and when the Los Angeles Kings rebounded after another slow start to roll past the St. Louis Blues.
As the playoffs rolled on, it seemed as if the NHL got exactly what they wanted as the last four Stanley Cup champions were the final four teams remaining. Yet while the Conference Final matchups lacked hype, this year’s Stanley Cup Final is certainly living up to its billing.
On paper, the matchup could not much more ideal: two Original Six franchises meeting in the Final for the first time since 1979 and while the rivalry between the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins isn’t exactly akin to the Hatfields and the McCoys, it is fair to assume that most fans prefer this matchup over Los Angeles and New Jersey last year with all due respect to both franchises.
Through just the first two games, the Hawks and Bruins are already making this one of the best Stanley Cup Finals in recent memory. In Game 1, the hometown Blacvkhawks erased two two-goal deficits to tie the game and eventually win in triple-overtime. In Game 2, it was the Bruins who won in overtime making the series a best-of-five with Game 3 in Boston tonight.
Both Tuukka Rask and Corey Crawford have been mesmerizing in their respective goals as the manic back-and-forth attack has given this series a reason for the most fair-weather of fans to tune in and stay tuned until the very end.
While we know who the big players on both teams are, it is the Bryan Bickells and Brad Marchands who are making this series what it is: a classic.
The puck will drop for Game 3 in less than an hour from now and the scene is set, the animosity has mounted and the excited has reached its peak and then some.
The 2013 Stanley Cup Final continues and it will not disappoint.