May 4, 2008.
Ladies and gentlemen, the Battle of Pennsylvania is on. Hold on to your hats and glasses; shield your children's eyes from the incoming blood splatter.
This is where the term "heated rivalry" becomes too much of an understatement. With Sunday afternoon's elimination of the New York Rangers by the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Eastern Conference Final is now set.
Pittsburgh's Sidney "Sid The Kid" Crosby and his lethally offensive teammates of Evgeni Malkin of Marian Hossa, will face off against the loud tough-talking Philadelphia Flyers.
Steel Town against the "City of Brotherly Love" (where ironically, wearing an opposing jersey would get you torn apart); what else could NHL marketing, sponsors, and fans want?
Sure, it's not featuring the major media market of New York City, but Pittsburgh and Philadelphia do love their teams. And having a traditionally hockey-mad city (and media market) such as Philly, combined with the game's heir-apparent to the legendary Wayne Gretzky (Crosby), isn't such a bad consolation.
As global warming brings the summer heat closer to much of the United States, frozen rinks will be reflecting off plenty of watching eyeballs in the East Coast.
Meanwhile in the West, the final conference match-up has yet to be determined. If the Dallas Stars seal the Sharks' fate tonight in Game Six, they will clash with the regular season's top-ranked Detroit Red Wings.
Of course, there's always the chance that the San Jose Sharks could pull off a historic comeback and continue California's hope of back-to-back Stanley Cup championships. The last time a NHL team came back from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, was in 1975 by the New York Islanders.
The Dallas Stars have yet to appear in the Final since 2000 (the year following their Cup win), but hockey has boomed in the Lone Star State since. The number of registered players and ice rink facilities had increased substantially in the Dallas area, becoming one of the largest in the country.
While that hasn't necessarily translated into huge local TV ratings or put the city in the same level buzz as a Original Six city, there is a passionate fan-base that will only continue to grow. With each step closer to the Cup, the crazier Dallas will get.
If San Jose pulls off the upset against Dallas, then one of the NHL's expansion success stories will have a chance to show Detroit that the hockey is just as good from the Sunshine State.
Unlike the attendance problems found in Detroit's Joe Louis Arena (partially caused by the economy, admittedly), the city of San Jose bleeds teal and provide a significant boost to the coffers of local bars and downtown restaurants.
Most small businesses already proudly display "Sharks Territory" signs in their front windows. If they can bring their team to the national stage, hockey fans will see that frozen lakes aren't necessary to get a place mad about pucks.
Detroit boasts one of the biggest fan-bases strewn around the country thanks to their long period of dominance, and being one of the NHL's Original Six teams since 1926.
The Red Wings call their Michigan home "Hockeytown" for a reason (besides being a marketing idea), and anything less than another championship is unacceptable to their fans.
Many transplants in places such as California and Florida will be tuning in to see their team make another run for glory.
Things are expected to heat up in the East. Regardless of the outcome in the West, it will still be a showcase of exciting hockey. Ratings have reportedly been up in many key markets and national broadcasts this year.
Sports and hockey fans can only expect plenty of entertainment in the coming weeks, as more blood, sweat, and broken bones are shed for North America's oldest professional trophy: the 115-year-old Stanley Cup.
Files from TSN.ca were used in this report.