Monday, February 28, 2022

The Preds and Lightning step outside, the Leafs and Wings get ridiculous, and just how worried are we about the Caps?

Some hockey writers do a lot of complaining about the NHL product. OK, fine, it’s me, I do a lot of complaining. It’s only when I think it’s justified, but that ends up happening a lot, as the league’s decision-makers continue to insist that the ideal version of this sport is low-scoring, risk-averse and fawningly dedicated to systems over creativity, all in the name of parity above all else, where 2-1 games where nothing interesting happens are decided by random bounces and everyone has to pretend that that’s entertaining.

All that said… hoo boy, that was a fun weekend, am I right?

I mean, if you couldn’t find something from the last few days that you thought was fantastic, you may as well just check out now. The NHL emptied the chamber for you this weekend.

Let’s start with the marquee event, the Stadium Series matchup between the Lightning and Predators. The two teams took the ice in front of nearly 70,000 fans in a football stadium, and delivered a 3-2 game that featured some nifty highlights and even a couple of scraps. As always, though, the game itself took a backseat to the atmosphere, which was incredible. Nashville put its best foot forward as a hockey town, and Lightning fans showed up en masse, making a game between two teams with barely any history temporarily feel like one of the greatest rivalries around.

The outdoor game concept is one of the few examples of the NHL getting something right in the Bettman era. And while they’ve lost some of their luster thanks to overkill, there’s something about seeing a new market get to try their hand at hosting. I’ll take a fresh matchup like this over yet another trip back to Fenway any day.

But OK, maybe you’re not sold on the spectacle of taking it outside. You’d rather see an old-fashioned game between two legitimate Cup contenders. We got that too, with the Avalanche and Golden Knights clashing on Saturday night. That one had a playoff feel, meaning lots of defense, but featured enough star power that it never felt boring. The Knights let a solid effort slip away in the third, as the Avs reminded us how quickly they can flip a game against even a top opponent.

Prefer something a little more focused on offensive stars? We had Connor McDavid and the Oilers making stops in Florida and Carolina, taking a 4-3 win over the Panthers before a 2-1 loss to the Canes, not to mention another Avalanche win that saw them and the Jets combine for nine goals.

Not enough offense for you? How about ten goals between the Flames and Wild. Right, good point, two of those were empty netters. Maybe 13 between the Hawks and Devils? No? OK, you asked for it. Let’s get completely stupid.

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