Ice, Ice, Ice, Ice Baby!

The Stanley Cup Playoffs began last night, a two-month-ish ritual that reminds the rest of North America, and indeed the world, that there is little that is more exciting and nail-biting than playoff hockey.

In a sports world where time is at a premium and compromises to a more ADD-impacted generation are being implemented, and with a regular season that incorporates five-minute, 3-on-3 overtimes and shootouts akin to soccer to determine results, there is something both nostalgic and captivating about the concept of games needing to be played to conclusion, long into the night or early morning.  With few actual scores and sheer exhaustion often as factors, close games are frequent, overtimes are encouraged, and the kinds of results the first two Western Conference games last night produced are cheered.

In a series featuring a scorer of whom the likes have not been seen in decades, Connor McDavid, we already see his team without home ice advantage, per the Canadian Press:

Alex Iafallo scored the overtime winner for the Los Angeles Kings in a 4-3 victory over the Edmonton Oilers to open their first-round playoff series Monday.

Iafallo scored a power-play goal at 9:19 of OT by converting a Victor Arvidsson feed from behind the net.

Adrian Kempe scored twice and Anze Kopitar had a goal and three assists for Los Angeles, which held Oilers captain and NHL scoring leader Connor McDavid off the scoresheet.  The Oilers almost ended it at 1:54 of OT, but officials ruled Ryan McLeod’s shot from the blue line deflected off Derek Ryan’s high stick.

And in Dallas, the upstart Minnesota Wild drew first blood in even more dramatic fashion, as the Associated Press’ Stephen Hawkins reported:

Ryan Hartman had just circled around the net when a deflected puck came toward him. He quickly scored to give the Minnesota Wild a victory in their playoff opener — a game that began Monday night and dragged into early Tuesday morning. 

Hartman gathered the puck and skated in front of the crease before lifting it over the extended left leg of Jake Oettinger at 1 a.m. local time, giving the Wild a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars in a more than four-hour marathon in which both 24-year-old goalies had spectacular performances.
The Eastern Conference openers’ results were less surprising, but both wild card teams playing on the road against division champions, the New York Islanders and Florida Panthers, kept things close, losing 2-1 and 3-1, respectively.  So while Carolina and the record-breaking Boston Bruins are up in their respective series, neither can be seen as candidates for runaways.
And tonight, four more intriguing series start, including the much-anticpated Rangers-Devils showdown, which will bring as much excitement to Newark as has been seen in many years, as The New York Times’ David Waldstein reported:

The rivalry between the Rangers and the Devils has not always been white hot. It took time to develop and cooled off for stretches when one team lagged, but it has long been a smoldering fire just waiting to be stoked.

“The way those rivalries start is from playoff series,” said Patrick Kane, who won three Stanley Cup championships with Chicago before he was traded to the Rangers in February. “I know these teams haven’t faced each other for a while in the playoffs, but it’s still a big rivalry.”

The last time these teams faced off in the postseason, the series ended on Adam Henrique’s overtime winner for the Devils, a shot past Henrik Lundqvist in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference finals on May 25, 2012. It was also the final game of Chris Kreider’s unique rookie season. He joined the Rangers straight from Boston College and was thrown right into the N.H.L. playoffs, where he scored five goals in 18 games without having played in a single regular-season game.

Three of those goals came against the Devils, but they were not what Kreider recalled when he was asked about the series.  “Losing,” he said. “That’s what I remember. I mean, it’s a totally different situation now. Different teams, different players. It’s apples and oranges.”

It’s perhaps the most anticipated matchup, one that TBS is savoring as it embarks on its second year of Stanley Cup coverage.  Appropriately, Ranger announcer Kenny Albert, who pop Marv called many a game in the “magical world of Madison Square Garden” when he was in diapers, will be at the microphone for this series.  Albert is to Turner’s NHL coverage what his father was to their NBA coverage–a familiar name with credibility and passion.  A worthy counter to the likes of Devils’ fans.

You know the type.

Happy nail-biting.


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