Monday, May 30, 2022

The 2022 playoffs have been amazing and I’m so confused

The NHL is good right now, and I’m confused and frightened.

This is mostly new ground for me. As long-time readers know, I’m never shy about aiming criticism at the NHL, and pointing out the product’s flaws when they become apparent. Critics would say that I complain aboutt the NHL basically all the time. I’d respond that I only criticize when it’s actually deserved, which is to say basically all the time.

But not now, because the 2022 playoffs have been good.

Like, really good. So, so good. And I find this deeply unsettling.

The first round delivered seven very good series out of eight, with five of those going the full seven games, which is almost unheard of. We had one team come all the way back from down 3-1 in the series, and two more come from down 3-2. We were teased with what could have been an epic upset in the Washington/Florida series. The Leafs and Lightning was great theater and delivered the result that most of you seemed to be rooting for. And even the one sweep served a purpose, with the Avalanche taking out the Predators with the sort of dominant trouncing that established a clear favorite for the rounds to come.

The round ended with a wild weekend, one that served up three Game 7s on a Saturday night (one short of the record), then two more on Sunday that both went to overtime. That was the first time in 25 years that we’ve had two Game 7 overtimes on the same day, and these two both ended with a team’s biggest offensive star scoring the winning goal.

Oh, and that entire round unfolded with a perfectly constructed schedule, one that saw each and every series playing out on alternating days with no gaps or back-to-backs. The league even seemed to realize that they could stagger start times, meaning there was pretty much always playoff hockey on whenever you wanted it.

It would have been impossible for the second round to match the first, but then… well, it almost did, right? We had another sweep, but while the Lightning and Panthers rematch was a bit of a dud, it was still a fascinating storyline to see the little brother spend the year bulking up just to get sand kicked in his face yet again. The Blues gave the Avalanche everything they could handle, including a Game 5 win that may have been the most dramatic of the playoffs so far. The Rangers and Hurricanes are going to a Game 7 tonight, and the series is already close to a classic, with Carolina’s home/road splits hitting never-before-seen territory.

And of course, the big one: After 31 years, we finally got a Battle of Alberta. Then the action somehow lived up to the hype, if not more. That opening game will live in infamy, and for once it’s going to be the good kind.

That’s a solid month’s worth of hockey, and just about all of it was fantastic. We had lots of goals, continuing a trend from the regular season. There were some epic comebacks, enough that we got used to feeling like a two or even three-goal lead wasn’t some insurmountable deficit. There was enough bad blood to keep everything spicy, but nothing that went so far overboard that it hung over a series. For once, it just felt like everything that can be fun about the NHL clicked into place.

Look at all of that. I’m pretty sure that’s the most words I’ve ever strung together in a row about the NHL without ranting about how much I hated something. What’s happening to me? Have I mellowed in my old age? Did I secretly get hired on as the league’s PR guy? There’s got to be something I can grumble about.

Uh… those CGI ads on the ice are kind of weird, I guess.

Yeah, I can’t do it. Or rather, I can do it, but I don’t want to, because it wouldn’t be deserved. It would feel forced. I’d be playing a character, waving my cane at the world beyond my porch just because that’s my comfort zone. It would feel cheap.

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