This previous season from an overall perspective was very good for the NHL. They are innovating their business model and in doing so are making hockey in the US more popular. The reason that this is of the utmost importance to the NHL is because the NHL is based in the states and it is a market that have been repeatedly the 4th most popular sport in the country. As of now there are 23 teams in the league based in the US and only 7 in Canada. And as we all know you don’t have to sell hockey to Canada. For the most part you don’t have to sell it to many other countries in the world. Sweden, Finland, Germany, Czech Republic, Russia, Germany, Slovakia, Switzerland and Latvia all have large hockey followings. With the addition of the Winter Classic it seems a lot of US interest has been garnered. Many people, not known for talking hockey, are coming to realize how intense the NHL is, more specially playoff hockey. Many of the rule changes made during the 2004-05 lockout have also attributed to the added interest from the US consumer base. Although some changes tailor made to add scoring have drew ire from many in the traditional fan base. The good news for the NHL is that the traditional fan base are die hard hockey fans and although they will complain about it few will actually stop watching it.
The Winter Classic this year marked the 5th in league history. The Flyers took on the Rangers in front of a sell out crowd at Citizens Bank Park. It was an amazing atmosphere. One of the best live events I have ever attended. This marked the first year the game was not held on New Years day as it was a Sunday and it is widely believed the NHL did not want to compete with the NFL for ratings. The game itself was very intense and nearly played to a draw through regulation. It was King Henrik who stopped our Danny on a penalty shot in the 3rd period of the game to preserve the lead for the Rangers. I still believe that was a highly questionable call. Maybe that ref felt the intensity of the game and didn’t want it to end. Maybe the refs were told to keep it close and he saw an opportunity to push the game to overtime. Anyway you look at that call is not made often. And even given the questionable call Danny, usually a top notch shootout player, failed to come through and dunk one on Lundqvist.
The playoffs this year were highly competitive and featured some great match-ups. Not quite as thrilling as Boston’s three 7 game series last year en route to a Stanley Cup victory, but entertaining just the same. The Flyers-Pens first round match-up was about as high quality of a series as it gets for the first round or any round for that matter. To say that it was a rough series would be doing it a disservice. It was bloody and brutal and probably led to the Flyers demise in the 2nd round as quite a few Flyers came out of that series with some bumps and bruises. That series also set a new playoff scoring record. The Boston-Washington series was also highly entertaining as the series after all was said and done had the teams separated but just a 1 goal differential. Talk about highly contested. Joel Ward capped off the win with the OT winner in game 7 apparently forcing Tim Thomas to take all of next year off. It’s either that or he’s going to fix the economy I’m not sure you’ll have to ask him. The Devils were a great story (unfortunately for Flyers fans) as they barely survived the first round after going to double overtime in game 7 against the Panthers and then went all the way to the Cup. Over in the West no team who came out of the first round alive had a Stanley Cup to their name. The 8th place Kings upended the Canucks in the first round easily to begin what would be a ridiculous hot streak that saw them take out the 1,2 and 3 seeds in the West en route to the Cup Finals. They were only the 2nd team to do so in NHL history. The 2003-04 Calgary Flames are the other. These playoffs also marked only the 2nd time in league history in which all Canadian teams were eliminated in the 1st round. Phoenix saw their first playoff series victory since moving to the desert from Winnipeg in 1996.
The Stanley Cup Finals were not nearly as entertaining as what transpired to get there, but for LA fans (the four or five of them) it was glorious. The Kings led by Jonny Quick were so hot at this point that only the ’87 Oilers could have gone near them. This team was not nearly as talented as the ’87 Oilers, (in fact I’d argue that no team in the history of sports was as talented as that team) but they were clicking on all cylinders at the perfect time. The first 2 games of the Cup went to OT and were fairly competitive with Anze Kopitar winning game one and Jeff Carter doing the honors in game two. Game three was highly less contested as Quick shut out the Devils and the Kings won 4-0. The Devils prevented the sweep in game 4 by winning 3-1. This was the third time in these playoffs the Kings failed to complete the sweep after they had went up 3-0 in a series. The Devils then begin to look like they had some life after they beat the Kings at home 2-1 in game 5. This marked the Kings first home loss of these playoffs. Ridiculous. The Devils had momentum and they seemed poised to push this thing to game 7. Unfortunately the well ran dry and the Kings routed the Devils 6-1. It was the most lopsided Cup clinching game since the Pens 1991 thrashing of Minnesota 8-0. The Bernier hit is obviously the story of the game here. He was given a 5 minute major and game misconduct. The Kings capitalized 3 times on that pp and basically put the game away in the first period. You can’t have those kind of hits the game, but in such a crucial game for the whole team I’m not sure I completely agree with the major call. Regardless the Kings hoisted the Cup and became only the 2nd California team to do so (the other the Ducks in 2007 being the other) and the 2nd to last expansion team to win it all.
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