The NHL Playoffs are back and it’s fans-tastic

Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos
Photo: Getty Images

Look, if there’s an opening to make a Cinderella reference, I’m gonna take it. Just deal with it, and let me have what little I can get.

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While the NHL playoffs technically returned on Saturday, Sunday was the true launch (along with a still regular-season game between Calgary and Vancouver that existed more as an art installation than anything else). Any hockey fan will tell you that the NHL playoffs are about mainlining adrenochrome as one game goes haywire, and then having about five minutes of recovery before the next one starts. It’s supposed to be an all-night affair, and all day on weekends. There’s supposed to be no let-up. And did Sunday deliver.

It has been two years since we got proper playoff hockey. Even if these games still had reduced crowds, it still made such a difference and clearly showed just what we missed with The Bubble last year and the canned noise and awkward sight of tarps over seats. We’re not fully back, but it sure felt a lot better.

A big appeal of playoff hockey is the atmosphere. Just hearing the crowd, somewhere between the last few minutes of the second period and the entire third where the thousands are gasping for air through screaming, as the feeling of coming over the first hill of a roller coaster extended over two hours simply becomes too much and everyone in the arena is wondering why they paid for this stress while also wondering how they’ll ever live without it. And all three games provided that.

The Islanders took the first game of the day in overtime, as Kyle-Paul Mary (ok, fine, Kyle Palmieri) netted two and started a whole bunch of questions about the Penguins’ goaltending that are definitely rational after one game. Minnesota also won in overtime in Vegas as both goalies, Marc-Andre Fleury for the Knights and Cam Talbot for the Wild, put on a show. Here’s a sample:

The Wild’s Joel Eriksson-Ek’s overtime goal was the only one of the game.

But the game of the day was the first-ever playoff meeting between the two Florida teams, which was played at a pace that could only be described as “Lee Roth coke binge.” There was a lot of teeth-gnashing on hockey Twitter as the Lightning rolled out both NIkita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos, now that the salary cap wasn’t a concern, as the former missed the whole season and the latter missed most of it. There was a suspicion/whining of cap circumvention.

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What people are really complaining about is that the Lightning were able to construct a roster strong enough to be without two of the best players in the league and still make the playoffs comfortably.

It was really twisting the knife that Kucherov scored twice, and also came up with this assist that had Sergei Bobrovsky’s jock needing TSA precheck:

That was Brayden Point’s first goal of the game, and his second came with barely a minute left to give the Lightning a 5-4 win. And neither were the goal of the night, as that belongs to Jonathan Huberdeau turning into Pistol Pete crossed with Neo to give Owen Tippet this gimme.

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Both teams hurled everything at each other in a frenzy, and if we get six or seven games of this we’ll be truly blessed. If we survive.

It was a breathless day, one filled with noise and chaos and bile and rancor. It was the NHL playoffs, back where they belong. Didn’t even realize how much I’d missed it.

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Over in Europe, Barcelona’s women’s team put a capstone on an incredible season by absolutely pulverizing Chelsea in the Champions League final 4-0, though it could have been seven or eight. Dutch forward Lieke Martens for Barça was simply unplayable, turning Chelsea’s right back Jess Carter into regurgitated foodstuffs for most of the evening. Here is an example of their dog-chewtoy relationship they had for the afternoon:

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It was hardly a one-woman show, however, as Barça were better all over the field. A brilliant example was Barça’s third goal, as Altana Bonmati finished off a team move that didn’t see any Chelsea player get within sonar range of any Barca attacker.

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The stats on Barca’s season are ridiculous. Barça lead the Spanish league by going 26-0-0 and outscoring their opponents 128-5. They won every game in the Champions League, save two. One was the second leg against Manchester City that saw them go through anyway, and the other was a draw in the first leg of the semi finals against PSG whom they then beat comfortably in the second leg. While clearly the Spanish league has some work to do to become tougher competition, Barça thwacked the two best teams from the WSL on their way to the European Cup, so there can’t be much argument they are the best team on the continent.

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Messi was probably pointing at this display of excellence and telling the board that’s what he wants.

We can't be too careful. Two guys in an airport...talking? It's a little fishy.