One of the best periods in the sporting calendar is almost upon us.
The Gold Coast Commonwealth Games?
No, especially if you live on the Gold Coast and just want to get to work on time.
“Round 3 of the AFL?” I hear you ask in confusion.
Not even close.
It is, in fact, North America’s NHL Playoffs, the finals series of the world’s premier ice hockey league, and here’s why you should be excited: ice hockey takes everything you hate about soccer and gives it the bird.
Is soccer too slow? Add ice, skates, hard hits and speed. Not enough goals in soccer? 6-5 is not an unusual score in the NHL. Want to see more of your team than just one game a week? NHL teams play just about every second day for six months straight.
And now that the playoffs are almost upon us, things get even better. Every game matters.
To win the Stanley Cup, teams must play four best-of-seven rounds. That’s a potential of a whopping 28 games. It’s time to pick a team.
Most of the teams have already clinched a playoff spot, but there are still teams who, at the time of writing, are yet to clinch. I’ll touch on these last.
Let’s start with the Metropolitan Division.
Washington Capitals – The Caps have been one of the best teams for the past few seasons, despite never being able to go all the way. They boast players such as Alexander Ovechkin, who has scored the most goals in the league this season and, at 6’3” and 106kg, he’s pretty much the Russian Buddy Franklin.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Currently gunning for a three-peat. They have Sidney Crosby, the best player in the league for the past decade. Surprisingly not the favourites for the Cup this time around. Still, I would not underestimate them, and jumping on the bandwagon can be a lot of fun.
Onto the Atlantic Division.
Boston Bruins – The Bruins’ top line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak has been immense and, as a result, they are one of the favourites for the Cup. Marchand is one of those players who you hate if you’re not a Bruins fan though, not unlike Toby Greene at GWS.
If this is your kind of thing, Boston are a great bet.
Tampa Bay Lightning – What happens when you build a team around some of the best offensive players in the league? You score more goals than any other team. If you like offense, and scoring, and going deep into the playoffs, Tampa Bay is for you.
Toronto Maple Leafs – One of the traditional teams with a huge fan-base, who a lot of people hate. The Leafs should remind you of Collingwood, except Collingwood are terrible and Toronto have some of the best younger talent in the league. Huge upside.
Now, the Central Division.
Nashville Predators – The Preds would be most people’s favourites for the Cup. They missed out last year in the Finals but are just too stacked to not be thereabouts again. They are fun to watch and have a great fan-base – there are a lot worse bandwagons you could jump on, just saying.
Winnipeg Jets – The fairy-tale story. A cup deprived, hockey-obsessed city in Canada who have been through some major hardship (the team didn’t even exist from 1996-2011), but who are finally looking good, thanks to wonderful trading and excellent drafting.
If you loved the Western Bulldogs’ 2016 flag, I’d get behind the Jets.
Minnesota Wild – It will be tough for the Wild with key man Ryan Suter out for the season. I’m not counting them out, but anything past the first round will be a huge achievement for them considering how good the two teams above are. Definitely a good underdog choice.
Nearly there, onto the Pacific Division.
Vegas Golden Knights – The newest team in the league – in fact, this is their first season. Unbelievably, they have defied all predictions and have actually won the Pacific Division.
With league favourite Marc Andre-Fleury in goal, and an exciting, goal scoring team, the hype in Vegas is very, very real. This could be history.
San Jose Sharks – Another team that made it to the finals in recent years but missed out. They have a very solid defence, with the best penalty kill percentage in the league, and are tough to beat on home ice. Think 2015 Fremantle.
The teams who are almost certainties to clinch.
Columbus Blue Jackets – They’ve been rubbish for ages but are young and have huge potential, like the Melbourne Demons. As for these playoffs, they could definitely cause some trouble for anyone who underestimates them.
Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils – Following either of these teams will be a bit of fun, but don’t expect them to get too far. Claude Giroux (Flyers) and Taylor Hall (Devils), in particular, will be relied upon to get their teams going.
The dogfight in the Western Conference.
Colorado Avalanche, St Louis Blues, Los Angeles Kings and Anaheim Ducks – All four of these teams are neck and neck in a huge cross-divisional fight for the last few playoff spots.
With three out of four certain to make it, any one of them would be a risky but rewarding underdog choice. My tip is the Blues will just miss out.
Florida Panthers – Probably not even worth mentioning. They need to win every game and they also need about four teams to lose as well to even think about making it. I guess it’s not over until it’s mathematically impossible, right? It’s definitely over.
It’s time to choose.
Any one of these teams, bar maybe the Panthers, will certainly be an exhilarating ride. If you’re sick to death of your footy team losing every week, or you can’t bring yourself to watch cricket for at least the length of Smith’s ban, here’s your alternative.
Your golden ticket to two months of fast-paced, hard-hitting, goal-scoring entertainment.
I guarantee you won’t regret it.