It's that time of year again.
No, not Christmas.
The 2011 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tomorrow.
The playoffs kickoff with five games slated for tomorrow night. It marks the beginning of one of the toughest, fiercest and most exciting spectacles in sports.
The NFL, MLB, NBA playoffs are all exciting in their own right and all have strenuous seasons, but nothing can match the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Many fans, players and analysts agree that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the most grueling of all playoffs. Teams need to battle four opposing teams and reach 16 wins over two months, to lift the most coveted trophy in the sports world, The Stanley Cup.
Nicknamed "The Holy Grail" (one of many nicknames), the Stanley Cup is the prize that players and teams fight for over a long and hard 82-game season and subsequent playoffs. The Stanley Cup is unique in North American sports, because there is only one of them.
Unlike other sports, which create different versions of their championship trophy each year, there is only one Stanley Cup. Every member of every team that wins it, gets their name on the Cup.
Getting your name etched onto the Stanley Cup beside your teammates and in essence, etched forever into history, is an honor. Oh, and each player gets their own day with the Holy Grail.
Some players take it to their hometown, some just share it with their family. If the Stanley Cup could talk, oh the stories it would tell. Some too perverse to mention here undoubtedly, but rest assured, the Cup has been everywhere and seen everything.
The trophy is so coveted, revered and respected, it has its own bodyguard. "The Keepers of the Cup" are people the NHL designates to travel with the Stanley Cup and protect it while it is away from the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto.
Having dreamt about the day of lifting the Stanley Cup since they were kids, the players on all 16 teams are poised with the chance of fulfilling their dreams.
Players refuse to touch the Cup until they have earned the right to by winning it. How do they earn that right? It's a long, tough journey, where the word "easy" has no place.
Playoff hockey is intense and hard-hitting. Players know the price that needs to be paid in order to lift the sacred Stanley Cup. They hold nothing back, and leave everything they have on the ice. They pay this price not just for themselves, but for the men they play beside.
The saying goes, "the logo on the front is a lot more important than the name on the back." The players in the NHL take this to heart, whether it is sticking up for another by dropping the gloves and fighting, or sacrificing their bodies by laying down to block a shot.
Players get bloodied and bruised. They break bones and return the same game. They lose teeth and step back on the ice for the next shift. There is no quitting.
The fans feed off this energy and emotion and create one of the most breathtaking atmospheres ever to be witnessed. If watching your team score a game winning goal in overtime and the arena exploding around you does not make the hair on the back of your neck stand-up, please check your pulse.
Plain and simple, the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs cannot be matched. The pain, sacrifice, atmosphere and excitement can outmatch any other sport.
When the puck drops tomorrow night and the 2011 NHL Playoffs begin, fans everywhere will be in for a treat, as we watch players chase their dreams and do whatever it takes to win and earn their rightful place in history.
As the late, great, Bob Johnson, former coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins said, "It's A Great Day For Hockey."
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