Drama, pain of playoff hockey a reminder why we love NHL
Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews accepts the Stanley Cup from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in Boston, June 24, 2013. (REUTERS/Brian Snyder)
They energetically booed him as he walked onto the ice at TD Garden to present the Stanley Cup to Chicago Blackhawks captain Jonathan Toews.
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman is used to it now.
Coming in a season which was delayed and then truncated to 48 games because of the lockout, the booing by fans here wasn’t surprising. They’d boo Bettman anyway. Lost in the noise was the fact that it was Boston Bruins owner Jeremy Jacobs, the chairman of the NHL board of governors and viewed as a hawk among the owners, was one of the influential voices in the league’s decision to once again play hardball with the hired help.
Then again, Bruins fans probably would have booed him, too.
When Bettman handed the Cup over to Toews for the second time in four years, it marked the end of the on-ice portion of the 2013 season, 157 days of regular-season and playoff games.
It’s a remarkable development that what transpired in those 157 days could make the lockout seem long ago. The increased value of regular-season games in a shortened season, the interesting narratives around the game’s best players (the resurrection of Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals; the on-going injury issues for Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby) and then one of the most compelling post-seasons in NHL history all combined to make the lockout a dwindling memory.
The fact is Bettman’s product is pretty good in spite of the often heavy-handed tactics of the owners.
An NHL playoff game used to be as predictable as a Joe Sakic quote. If a team had a 2-0 lead going into the second period, you might as well have flipped over to The Simpsons.
When the Hawks scored two goals in the last 76 seconds, 17 seconds apart, to come from behind and win Game 6 and the Cup, they became the fifth club to win a Cup final game it trailed with 90 seconds or less left in the game and the only one to do it before overtime.
Drama is again a player.
There also hasn’t been a post-season in which the reputation of NHL players as the toughest athletes in sports was enhanced as much as this one. They endeared themselves to long-time admirers and won over new ones.
The image of Boston Bruins centre Gregory Campbell dragging himself to his feet on what turned out to be a broken leg after throwing himself in front of a slapshot off the stick of Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin in the Eastern Conference final resonated with fans of all sports. He played another 47 seconds before hobbling to the bench and disappearing down the hallway, gone from the game and, as it turned out, the playoffs.
Any other hockey player would have done the same, he shrugged.
There were the usual reports upon a team’s elimination of the various mangled knees and separated shoulders with which players competed and it wasn’t any different after the final.
It was a dramatic moment when Boston’s Patrick Bergeron, who was taken to hospital after leaving Game 5 of the final, came out after playing in Game 6 and reluctantly offered up his laundry list of physical calamities to the media: a broken rib, cartilage damage and other soft tissue injuries as well as a separated shoulder. He had gone to hospital because concerns about damage to his spleen.
He separated his shoulder in Game 6.
Teammate Tyler Seguin said Bergeron also had something going on with his nose.
The list of his injuries sounded more like somebody who had been in a high-speed car crash than an NHL playoff game, though with the pace the game is played at now, there isn’t much difference. Apparently
Bergeron issued to what amounted to an apology for not being able to do more, but it was tough with the pain.
The players once again reaffirmed for us why we love this game, why we love seeing them lift the Stanley Cup over their heads, a privilege reserved for the few who are capable or willing to pay a price most of us can only imagine.
Did the playoffs make you forget about the pain of the lockout?