The 2013 Stanley Cup Finals will be remembered for a variety of reasons: it was the first final in twenty years to feature at least three overtime games, it was the first final since 1979 to feature two of the Original Six franchises and it included perhaps the most improbable Stanley Cup-winning comeback in NHL history, a 17-second burst of offense that began with the Blackhawks pulling their immovable force of a goalie, Corey Crawford, and ended with a rebounded shot from Dave Bolland.
Really, it was an alignment of all the things that make postseason hockey a seemingly different sport from regular season hockey, one which people are more willing to ingest as a result of the excitement and fervor with which each team plays its games. No one leaves anything on the ice during the playoffs, or at least that is what fans are led to believe, and when a team has already played a legendary first-round series, with a legendary game 7, it is hard to continue putting out the effort to defeat team after team in route to a championship.
But seriously, this doesn’t happen, and then it does, and then we all remember why hockey is awesome:
To watch a team like the Boston Bruins, with all of the emotional appeal and circumstance surrounding it, recover from a three-goal deficit in the third period to win a game 7 and then go on to play dominant, nearly perfect hockey against teams which had been expected to contend for the Cup this year spoke to the awe-inspiring potential of momentum and its implications. The Bruins were not going to lose this series.
On the other side, the care with which the Blackhawks had treated the puck all season led directly to its Presidents’ Trophy victory as the best regular season team in the NHL. This team did not drop a point through its first 24 games, a stretch just about as good as any team streak in sports when taking into account the undeniable toll of such a physical game. The Blackhawks were not going to lose this series.
In many ways, this was exactly the series the NHL wanted. This series brought the game back to its roots, as core fans were able to enjoy a war of attrition while also attracting the viewership of many outside the Boston and Chicagoland areas. Indeed, this final was the most-watched since at least 1994, and the teams’ propensity for overtime did not hurt. Gary Bettman, long the most-hated commissioner in North American professional sports, sat atop his ivory tower and watched as the teams beat each other to beyond their limits, and he must have been feeling jovial as he handed the Conn Smythe Trophy, and then Lord Stanley’s Cup, to Patrick Kane, the sea of boos in Boston notwithstanding.
This series may be just the straw hockey needs to stir its drink for fans. In a league with perhaps too many teams playing to disinterested fanbases (this year’s final more than doubled the ratings of last year’s Los Angeles Kings-New Jersey Devils final), this series just may revitalize a sport that has suffered in recent years with labor issues and a lack of big-name, marketable stars not named Crosby or Ovechkin. It will be interesting to see if the NHL can take a page out of the books of its two Conference champions and carry momentum in a positive direction. This sport, strong in its foundation, must construct a house of bricks rather than of cards, one which can withstand the follies of its commissioner and restore the viewing public’s faith in it.
I mean, c’mon:
What’s not to like about that? (Sorry, Bruins fans).