Nothing in sports compares to the heart-pounding drama of the NHL playoffs. That was fully evident on Wednesday night when the Chicago Blackhawks won an instant classic over the Boston Bruins, 4-3, in a triple-overtime thriller in Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final.
It was the type of game that grabs the attention of the casual sports fan, the people who are so important to the NHL's success and future growth. It also served as a great advertisement for hockey, which has the unique ability to captivate fans with a level of unscripted, edge-of-your-seat drama that cannot be found in any other sport.
Put simply, Game 1 was a perfect example of the historic games that fans didn't want to miss when the league and its players threatened the 2012-13 season with a work stoppage.
Despite the rough start to the year, the NHL has been very fortunate that its players have provided sports fans with some truly memorable moments. These moments will forever be engraved in our minds, including Wednesday's marathon in Chicago.
At his yearly state of the NHL press conference, commissioner Gary Bettman talked about the league's recovery from the work stoppage on Wednesday.
Per Kukla's Korner:
Obviously, we had a start to the season which was not the one we wanted. But when you look at the entirety of what's gone on, there's no doubt that our fans have been nothing short of spectacular, and we're grateful for that. We thank them.
Attendance was great during the regular season and the playoffs. I think we were about 97% of capacity during the regular season, over 100% so far in the playoffs. TV ratings, Canada, the U.S., local, national, were all strong, and in some cases, record.
Does the NHL deserve a remarkable bounce-back from the wasted time and games that resulted from billionaire owners and millionaire players letting greed and personal agendas ruin half the year during the lockout?
It doesn't, but its fans, for better or worse, quickly forgave the owners and players. The fans are responsible for much of the recovery that the league had made since January.
After an enormously exciting regular season that has been followed by a remarkable set of playoff games, it was fitting that Game 1 of the Cup Final was not only the longest contest of the 2013 season, but arguably the most exhilarating.
Both teams had several chances to earn a victory in the 50-plus minutes of bonus hockey. Ultimately, Blackhawks winger Andrew Shaw ended the fifth-longest Stanley Cup Final game in history with a deflection past Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask, who faced a career-playoff-high 63 shots.
John Shannon of Sportsnet provided some fascinating numbers from Game 1:
By the Numbers:Duncan Keith played 48:40... Zdeno Chara played 45:05...A total of 120 Hits...Chi:61...Bos:59. A game for the ages!— John Shannon (@JSportsnet) June 13, 2013
To put this game in a historical context, here's some additional information from the NHL:
This is the eighth game in Stanley Cup Final history to go to a 3rd OT. #StanleyCup— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 13, 2013
The NHL has always provided sports fans with the best playoff action on the sports calendar, but this year's pursuit of the Stanley Cup has been extra special. Seven of the first 14 playoff series went at least six games, and five of those were decided in a do-or-die Game 7.
In Round 1, the Bruins became the first team to win a Game 7 when trailing by three or more goals in the third period. They did so by scoring twice in the final minute of regulation to force overtime. In the extra period, Patrice Bergeron scored the series-winning goal to hand the Leafs a devastating loss.
There has been at least one overtime game in all 15 series in the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. #StanleyCup— NHL Public Relations (@PR_NHL) June 13, 2013
In addition to all of the insane endings to games and thrilling individual performances from superstars and role players that have highlighted this year's playoffs, the league also lucked out with a great Original Six matchup in the Stanley Cup Final. It is the first since 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers in five games.
Bettman talked about the historical matchup during his Wednesday presser:
The fact that you have two teams that have long histories and traditions is a plus because it feeds into the storylines. The fact that this is the first original six matchup in, what, 34 years adds to the intrigue. But the most important thing is what's going to take place on the ice.
Obviously, two big hockey cities are excited about this. That may garner even more attention throughout Canada and the rest of the United States. But it starts with what takes place on the ice.
A lot has been made of the Original Six matchup heading into the final, but the intriguing part of this series is the fact that there's a contrast of styles. We have the physical, defensive-minded Bruins against the speedy, highly skilled Blackhawks.
We didn't really know what to expect from these two teams in Game 1 because they hadn't played against each other since October of 2011. This year's shortened schedule was made up of in-conference games only.
Was Game 1 of the 2013 Stanley Cup Final the best game of the entire season?
It was predicted by many that this series would be a stingy defensive battle. Yet, after seeing both teams trade many high-quality scoring chances and combine to score seven goals in Game 1, we could see a rare Stanley Cup Final that is headlined by offensive heroics and not the stellar performances of the goaltenders.
In a season that started in the worst way possible, the NHL is thriving with two of its marque franchises in traditional hockey markets, giving fans what appears to be a lengthy, action-packed series.
The NHL is far from a perfect league, but it couldn't have asked for a better 2013 playoffs to grab the attention of casual fans and give them a product worth watching when other major sporting events, such as the U.S. Open and NBA Finals, are competing for viewers.
The best part is that we could potentially be treated to six more games in this series. If any of them are as good as Wednesday's classic, this shortened NHL season will be one for the ages.
Nicholas Goss is an NHL Lead Writer at Bleacher Report. Nick was a credentialed reporter at the 2011 Stanley Cup Final and 2012 NHL playoffs, and he will also be a credentialed writer at the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in Boston.