Game One of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins was pretty amusing despite the fact that I have no clear rooting interest in who wins the NHL’s coveted chalice.
The highlights were the Penguins taking no shots on goal in the second period (they only took 12 total during three periods of play), and managing to win the game 5-3, a disemboweled catfish thrown on the ice during a stoppage in play, a disallowed P.K. Subban goal that has the greater Toronto area in an uproar, and Don Cherry’s Uncle Sam getup during CBC’s “Coach’s Corner” segment between the first and second period.
Three things hit home for me during the contest: One, it’s not the number of shots taken at the net that count, but how many of them actually make it past the goaltender. Two, one dead catfish thrown onto the ice is actually more disgusting than all the octopuses that hit the ice over the years in the Joe Louis Arena in Detroit. Three, based on his distaste of foreign players in the NHL, I realized that if Don Cherry was able to vote in the last presidential election, he probably would have voted for Donald Trump.
My previous lament about how sports has been an insufficient distraction to our current dystopian nightmare stayed with me throughout this year’s playoffs. I tried so hard to pay attention, especially since my beloved Maple Leafs seemed poised to make a deep run. (The New York Islanders, whom I also have a personal connection with… well, that’s a whole other torturous tale I’ll save for another time.)
After the Leafs were vanquished by the Washington Capitals, I grew increasingly fidgety trying to watch games that, more often than not, went at least two overtimes before a winning goal could be scored. After the Ottawa Senators made it to the Eastern Conference Final, I began thinking how cool it would be for a Canadian team to break the country’s 24-year championship drought. And the Senators, the team in the nation’s capitol, was destined, I thought, to accomplish that feat. None of the seven Canadian teams made the playoffs in 2016, so it would have been quite the Cinderella story to have that team win the Cup the year the country celebrates its 150th birthday.
The beauty of the Stanley Cup playoffs has always been the “cream rises to the top” scenario that manifests itself each and every year. More than any in any other sport, the four round, best-of-seven format ensures the team that does manage to win the Cup well and truly deserves it. Fans endure crushing disappointment when their team finishes the regular season with the best record, only to be stymied in the first or second round of playoff action. (Washington Capitals fans are all too familiar with that.) Then, you have the teams that seem poised to go a round or two that get swept in four games. (Hello, Chicago Blackhawks fans.)
Usually, the Stanley Cup playoffs are a plethora of intrigue and delight, and this year, the Final is no exception. The Penguins finished the regular season with the second-best overall record (50-21-11) behind the Caps. The Predators, however, backed into the last playoff spot in the Central Division of the Western Conference with a record of 41-29-12. Not too shabby. And both teams have been bitten by the injury bug throughout the second season, making the path to the Final even more rewarding.
While I can’t say I’ll be thrilled to call either team “champion” in about 14 days time, I can’t help but have great respect and admiration for the players and the organizations that managed to get to the final round of the dance. I am looking forward to how it will play out.
The NHL has the shortest off-season of all the major professional sports, so the thrill of victory is fleeting. Either way, the people of Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia (Sidney Crosby’s hometown), or the Scarborough neighborhood in Toronto (where P.K. Subban is from) will have something to cheer about this summer, And that, in and of itself, makes me happy.
Nava is a freelance writer based in the American Pacific Northwest. She loves to watch and write about hockey because she is also Canadian. During the off-season, Nava loves to cross-border shop, drink gallons of Tim Horton’s coffee, and contemplate jumping in her car and driving to Alaska.