Final night time marked the tip of the primary NHL season because the strike/lockout of 2004-2005. The Stanley Cup playoffs — arguably probably the most thrilling match in sports activities — start Friday night time, however will anyone be watching, aside from Don Cherry and Barry Melrose?

Whereas attendance was up in 75% of NHL arenas this season, the game continues to wrestle to draw new followers. The league has slipped to No. 5 in reputation for a lot of, behind the NFL, NBA, MLB and NASCAR.

The Good Outdated Days

Again within the days when the NHL was on nationwide TV two or three nights every week, it was straightforward to get into the sport. There have been all the time nice gamers and nice groups to maintain us . The rivalry between the Bruins and Canadiens within the ’70s was as intense because the Crimson Sox-Yankees rivalry is now. Wayne Gretzky and the good Edmonton groups of the ’80s have been wonderful to look at, and Mario Lemieux’s dominance and Mark Messier’s resurrection of the New York Rangers saved us going by means of the ’90s.

There are a number of younger gamers in the present day who ought to be garnering our accolades, however due to an absence of publicity and poor advertising and marketing by the league, these would-be family names are after-thoughts within the sports activities world. Everyone knows Jaromir Jagr, Joe Sakic and Teemu Selanne, however how many people know Eric Staal (100 factors), Ilya Kovalchuk (52 objectives) and Brian Gionta (46 objectives)?

Some wonderful accomplishments have been achieved this season, together with the Detroit Crimson Wings’ astounding 124 factors (fifth-best complete in league historical past), rookies Sidney Crosby of the Penguins and Alexander Ovechkin of the Capitals each topping the 100-point mark, and Jonathan Cheechoo changing into the primary Native American (referred to as First Nations folks in his native Canada) to win the goal-scoring title with 56.

All the time

There’s one group of followers that’s curious about nearly each sport in each sport — the gamblers. Hockey historically has been an ideal sport to wager on, particularly early within the season. The oddsmakers usually have a tough time handicapping the game that they aren’t that aware of, leaving gamblers loads of alternative for simple cash. With that in thoughts, right here is how the primary spherical of the NHL playoffs shapes up on this gambler’s thoughts:

Detroit and Dallas are in acquainted positions atop the Western Convention standings. The Crimson Wings, who turned the primary crew in 10 years to undergo a complete season with out being shutout, ought to rating early and infrequently as they dismantle the Edmonton Oilers within the first spherical. Detroit wins in a sweep.

Colorado is all the time a tricky out, however the Avalanche dropped Three straight and Four of their final 5 to finish the season. The Stars’ stingy protection would be the distinction in a low-scoring collection. Dallas wins Four video games to 1.

Calgary with possible Vezina Trophy winner Miikka Kiprusoff in internet should not have any drawback eliminating Anaheim in 6 video games.

The opposite first-round Western Convention matchup could also be the most effective of all. Nashville completed the season successful 6 straight, together with the season finale vs. Detroit, and posted the league’s greatest dwelling document at 32-8-1. San Jose options Hart Trophy candidate and the league’s main scorer Joe Thornton, together with the aforementioned Cheechoo. Search for a high-scoring, entertaining collection with the Sharks successful a seventh sport in Nashville.

Champs Nonetheless Alive

Over within the Jap Convention, the defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning staved off late costs from Toronto and Atlanta to seize the eighth spot. The champs face multiple-time first-round loser Ottawa to start their protection of the title, and the Senators are ripe for an upset once more. Ottawa limped into the playoffs, ending 2-4-2 in its final Eight video games. The lack of Dominik Hasek hasn’t helped, both. Tampa wins Four video games to 2.

Carolina, regardless of being shutout in its final sport and dropping to the No. 2 seed, ought to be robust to beat. Montreal’s rookie goalie Cristobal Huet got here out of nowhere to put up a powerful 2.14 GAA and a league-leading .930 save share. He may have a tricky job in making an attempt to decelerate the Hurricanes’ high-scoring offense. Carolina advances in 7.

The Rangers-Devils ought to be a enjoyable one for the New York followers. New Jersey is the most popular crew within the league. The Devils scored Three objectives within the third interval to finish a 4-Three comeback final night time towards the Canadiens for his or her 11th straight victory. The win clinched the Atlantic Division for New Jersey, which trailed Philadelphia by 19 factors on Jan. 6. With momentum and expertise on their aspect, the Devils will maintain down Jagr and remove New York in 5 video games.

The final first-round collection options the upstart Buffalo Sabres vs. the Philadelphia Flyers, who need to be disillusioned that they didn’t maintain on to win the division. The important thing to this collection would be the well being of Flyers star middle Peter Forsberg. If he could make it by means of your entire collection, Philly has an opportunity, however Buffalo’s hard-hitting protection received’t make it straightforward for him. Buffalo wins in 7.

Regardless of the final result, I’m trying ahead to watching some nice playoff hockey. Nothing matches the depth of sudden demise time beyond regulation or the elation and ache of a seventh sport.