Have you been watching this?
If you ask your average Canadian, the answer is obvious and laced with sarcasm. If you ask the average American; however, you might not be so sure. So, I will ask again: have you been watching the spectacle that is the 2011 NHL playoffs?
Every day this post-season has been an absolute blast. The NHL has taken us from overtime thrillers to dominating performances, game sevens to series sweeps, breakout stars to veterans fighting their age, and the vindication following near-collapses.
In a tournament which started without two of the game's most recognizable and exciting stars in Pittsburgh's Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the league's young guns and steady veterans have stolen the show.
Anaheim's Bobby Ryan currently holds the title of goal of the playoffs with his unforgettable tally. In case you missed it, you can see it here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SBz8ecAubxE&feature=related. You might want to watch that again. Go ahead, I'll wait.
Tim Thomas has been a human highlight reel between the pipes. Thomas, and 3rd round counterpart Dwayne Roloson, have been channeling their best Dominik Hasek with a cavalcade of sprawling stops and stunning saves.
Don't let the highlights blind you of the unreal playoff performances we've been privy to. Line-mates Steve Downie and Sean Bergenheim have lead the Lightning past perennial powerhouses Pittsburgh and Washington with their great defense and surprising offensive touch. Joel Ward and the Nashville Predators upset the Ducks in round one, followed by them giving the number one seed Vancouver Canucks a run for their money. In this past week, we may be witnessing the birth of a star in the teenaged Tyler Seguin; lighting up the Bolts in his last two games – his only in the playoffs – with three goals and three assists.
Speaking of those Canucks, what can be said of Ryan Kesler? Better yet, what can't be said about the Michigan native who leads the playoffs in points, despite only getting four points against the Blackhawks. Kesler has carried the Canucks with a tremendous two-way game and is in-line for the Conn Smyth if the Canucks can win Lord Stanley's mug.
Don't ignore the elder statesmen of the NHL either this year. The entire sports world is getting younger, but don't tell Vincent Lecavalier and his return to stardom after a few years of regression. Of course, 41 year-old Nicklas Lidstrom has continued to play at an All-World level. Watching him rise up the historical playoff leaderboards has been a treat. Take notice kids, you might be watching the greatest defenseman of all time.
But despite these great individual feats, the players have taken a backseat to the teams. The first round yielded four thrilling game sevens and only one sweep, as well as a record 14 overtime games. Round one saw few upsets, but few will forget Vancouver’s near-collapse at the hands of their playoff nemesis the Blackhawks, as they lead 3-0 before having to win game seven on a brilliant Alex Burrows OT winner.
Round two saw both underdogs upsetting the favourites in a sweeping fashion, while the Green Men had fun with Nashville’s Mike Fisher and San Jose brought Detroit to the brink, only to be forced into yet another game seven this year. The Sharks ended up beating the Red Wings in the decisive game by one goal, a fitting result in a series where an empty net goal resulted in the only game decided by more than a single goal.
So as the NHL is treating us to an exciting pair of conference finals, I have to ask: Why aren’t you watching this?