Points From the Paint: Armageddon Edition

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By:  Bryan Vickroy

When the owners locked the players out of the NHL during the 2004 – 2005 season, they essentially erased any credibility and traction the sport had gained in the years of Gretzky, Lemieux, Roy, and Messier.  The Stanley Cup Playoffs used to be a must see event for the whole country, like the World Series, but with Jack Bauer like drama and roller coaster thrill rides of sudden death hockey well into the early morning hours.  Despite Gary Bettman’s best efforts to screw up the sport, a must see event has returned to the sport, possibly setting a new course and direction for the league.  Game 7.  Pittsburgh.  Washington.  The game’s first chance to shine with its reformulated product.

As short as two years ago, the national coverage of hockey was so bleak that games couldn’t even be seen in the executive suites at the arena where the games where being played (Anaheim, 2007) due to the region’s cable provider not carrying Versus on the basic cable tier.  The NHL’s television contract has gotten in the way of growing the sport the way it should be.  The Washington/Pittsburgh series has finally given the league a chance to shine a light on the product on the ice, and not the distractions off the ice.

 

With teams like Phoenix and Tampa Bay hemorrhaging money in this economic crises, and attacks on the style and types of actions and play that are allowed on to occur on the ice, bad publicity is usually the only publicity the league can get.  Showing the skills and revolution in play style of the latest wave of players is a trio of snipers:  Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Alexander Ovechkin.  These three have combined to rack up scoring titles, goal titles, and MVP awards in the short time they’ve been in the league.  On a national level, Crosby and Ovechkin seem to be the only players to regularly receive any type of attention.

Since the first pick in the 2005 draft, the league has ridden on the hope that Sidney Crosby could salvage the league’s image, and bring hockey back into the mainstream.  Sid the Kid was to the NHL what LeBron was to the NBA:  the can’t miss, mass marketable, guaranteed superstar.  By his ending up in Pittsburgh, it saved a franchise from collapse, and even got them the arena they long desired.  A run to the Stanley Cup Finals last year was supposed to be the coming out party for a string of Penguin Cup appearances.  The struggles of the team to adjust to roster changes in the offseason set them teetering out of the playoffs at the All Star break.  Veteran influences, and a coaching change stabilized the team, and settled them into a home ice advantage in the first round. 

Alexander Ovechkin came into this season with individual accolades already achieved, and ready to create a whole team.  The Capitals learned from their taste of the playoffs last year and responded by winning their division for the second straight year, and claiming the East’s second best record.  After sweating through the first half of their first round game, they coasted through a seven game win, and two home wins against the Penguins.

Home ice has been the key to this series.  The last two games are the only road victories in the series.  The three stars have all been phenomenal, all three leading the playoffs in scoring (Ovechkin, Crosby, Malkin) and totaling a Nintendo like 55 points so far between them. 

A seven game series between these two teams is the lifeline the league has been holding onto since it returned.  Not only does the league need another game to match the intensity and quality of the first six games, but also needs an audience that is willing to watch the game and let it grow on them. 

 

 

The ratings for this game may not look good in the end run.  After all, the rest of the games have been lucky to pull one million viewers.  Its not highly likely it will do much more than that.  But hockey has rejoined the mainstream conversation, if only for a brief period of time.  Most will let it be forgotten with all the other filler of our daily lives.  Hopefully some will latch on, and help grow the game.  Every game can’t be Sid the Kid vs. AO, but every game has the intensity and unpredictability that can’t be beat by any other event, program, or scenario.   Hockey still has a long way to climb back from its self-inflicted wounds; hopefully this series is the start of a new national love interest.  Unfortunately, the results may not be seen for some time yet. 

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Comments

  1. bryan vickroy says

    Ovechkin is looking to tie or break jarri kurri’s record for most points in a series of any round.

  2. Peter Christian says

    what a letdown of a game 7! Although Sid definitely came to play. Pens-Hawks Stanley Cup Finals is forthcoming.

  3. paulmbanks says

    Good job Vickroy! Fantastic piece. In my opinion, it’s all about tv. right now the elimination game for us here in Chicago to see who we’re facing is on, but it’s on Versus, a channel no non NHL fans have ever heard of? And the other elimination game tonight Bos/Car? nowhere to be found on television in the Chi market. a crime. Bettman really is a retard for turning that tv deal with ESPN2 a few years ago, what a moron.

    tv is the main driving force in turning around the Hawks. Rocky Wirtz started talking about televising games at his old man’s wake (so the story goes) and they went from afterthought on par with the Wolves of the AHL, today they’re 2nd ONLY TO THE BEARS in this town….if that persists next season after the playoffs are over, who knows?

  4. paulmbanks says

    Rocky is a good role model for leadership, he sits in sec 119 for every game, not the owner’s box. And answers everybody who approaches him. So I follow this model b answering every email and responding to every comment I get on every site I write for. If he can do it, so can I.

    btw, all these stories in the local media about the hawks franchise revitilzation, (the same stories I was writing 6 months ago btw) none of them mention the ineptitude of the league’s leadership. That’s a huge factor all these journos are overlooking and it makes CHI renaissance all the more remarkable

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