The NHL is sweet proper now, and I’m confused and frightened.

This is usually new floor for me. As long-time readers know, I’m by no means shy about aiming criticism on the NHL, and mentioning the product’s flaws once they develop into obvious. Critics would say that I complain concerning the NHL mainly on a regular basis. I’d reply that I solely criticize when it’s really deserved, which is to say mainly on a regular basis.

But not now, as a result of the 2022 playoffs have been good.

Like, actually good. So, so good. And I discover this deeply unsettling.

The first spherical delivered seven superb collection out of eight, with 5 of these going the total seven video games, which is sort of unparalleled. We had one workforce come all the way in which again from down 3-1 within the collection, and two extra come from down 3-2. We have been teased with what may have been an epic upset within the Washington/Florida collection. The Leafs and Lightning was nice theater and delivered the outcome that the majority of you appeared to be rooting for. And even the one sweep served a objective, with the Avalanche taking out the Predators with the type of dominant trouncing that established a transparent favourite for the rounds to come back.

The spherical ended with a wild weekend, one which served up three Game 7s on a Saturday evening (one short of the record), then two extra on Sunday that each went to additional time. That was the primary time in 25 years we’ve had two Game 7 overtimes on the identical day, and these two each ended with a workforce’s largest offensive star scoring the profitable objective.

Oh, and that whole spherical unfolded with a superbly constructed schedule, one which noticed every collection enjoying out on alternating days with no gaps or back-to-backs. The league even appeared to comprehend that they might stagger begin instances, which means there was just about at all times playoff hockey on everytime you wished it.

It would have been unimaginable for the second spherical to match the primary, however then … properly, it virtually did, proper? We had one other sweep, however whereas the Lightning and Panthers rematch was a little bit of a dud, it was nonetheless an interesting storyline to see the little brother spend the 12 months bulking up simply to get sand kicked in his face but once more. The Blues gave the Avalanche all the things they might deal with, together with a Game 5 win that will have been essentially the most dramatic of the playoffs thus far. The Rangers and Hurricanes are going to a Game 7 tonight, and the collection is already near a traditional, with Carolina’s residence/street splits hitting never-before-seen territory.

And after all, the massive one: After 31 years, we lastly received a Battle of Alberta. Then the motion in some way lived as much as the hype, if no more. That opening recreation will stay in infamy, and for as soon as it’s going to be the nice form.

That’s a stable month’s price of hockey, and nearly all of it was improbable. We had a number of objectives, persevering with a development from the common season. There have been some epic comebacks, sufficient that we received used to feeling like a two- and even three-goal lead wasn’t some insurmountable deficit. There was sufficient dangerous blood to maintain all the things spicy, however nothing that went thus far overboard that it hung over a collection. For as soon as, it simply felt like all the things that may be enjoyable concerning the NHL clicked into place.

Look in any respect of that. I’m fairly positive that’s essentially the most phrases I’ve ever strung collectively in a row concerning the NHL with out ranting about how a lot I hated one thing. What’s taking place to me? Have I mellowed in my previous age? Did I secretly get employed on because the league’s PR man? There’s received to be one thing I can grumble about.

Uh … these CGI advertisements on the ice are form of bizarre, I suppose.

Yeah, I can’t do it. Or fairly, I can do it, however I don’t need to, as a result of it wouldn’t be deserved. It would really feel compelled. I’d be enjoying a personality, waving my cane on the world past my porch simply because that’s my consolation zone. It would really feel low-cost.

The final month hasn’t been excellent, however actually, what’s your large grievance? We may have executed with a bit extra additional time, I suppose. The early days of Round 1 had just a few too many blowouts. There hasn’t been a real Cinderella story like we’re used to seeing, though these have been in all probability getting overdone anyway. And Sidney Crosby’s damage put a little bit of a damper on that Rangers comeback.

Really, the one apparent difficulty with the previous few weeks is that the Battle of Alberta solely lasted 5 video games as a substitute of what it ought to have gone, which was 27 video games. We can all agree on that one. And sure, a part of the explanation the collection was reduce brief was that the Flames had a objective waved off that perhaps ought to have counted. I believe Calgary received screwed, though not everybody does, and you may’t say that one name prices you a collection for those who lose in 5 video games. Still, I believe Blake Coleman’s objective ought to have counted. Even in a really perfect 12 months, we are able to’t escape the obligatory officiating controversy.

But even there, we’re doing fairly properly. Typically by this level, we’d have had a half-dozen main controversies, and everybody can be calling for brand new guidelines and expanded evaluation and no matter else. This 12 months has definitely seen just a few missed calls, and some others that have been positive however that homers needed to scream about anyway. But for essentially the most half, we’d dodged any true showstoppers till the Coleman kick. Sure, Leaf followers are nonetheless mad concerning the interference no-goal, and Blues followers suppose Nazem Kadri ran their goalie, and there was that bizarre helmet factor that price the Penguins. We’ve had the standard arguments over goalie interference, and offside evaluation in some way nonetheless exists. But we haven’t seen any true debacles, or any calls that single-handedly determined a collection like we had with the Knights and Sharks just a few years in the past. The refs even referred to as penalties for some time in Round 1, which was what everybody mentioned they wished, earlier than stopping later within the spherical, which is what everybody really needs.

When even the officiating is merely making you indignant as a substitute of apoplectic, it’s been a great postseason.

Is this the half the place I’ve to grudgingly give credit score to the league for making all of it occur? Maybe, however I’m not fairly there but. Much just like the regular-season scoring enhance that nobody could quite explain, I’m undecided that what we’re seeing is the results of the NHL really doing something. I’ll give them credit score for the scheduling, and perhaps that they had a phrase with the referees about sometimes paying consideration. But lots of this simply appears like good luck, or perhaps the absence of dangerous luck, versus something the NHL willed into place.

If so, that’s positive. We can take that. Hockey is the best sport on the planet when it’s working, and proper now it really works. If that’s only a joyful accident, properly, let’s put the emphasis on the joyful.

And right here’s the half that feels unimaginable, however in some way isn’t: There’s an opportunity it’s all about to get even higher. We’ve received a Game 7 to observe tonight, with a rested Lightning workforce ready within the wings. We haven’t seen a three-peat within the NHL for the reason that Islanders of the Eighties; it’s one thing that even Wayne Gretzky’s Oilers and Mario Lemieux’s Penguins by no means managed. But we may see it this 12 months, as a result of the Lightning are a mini-dynasty that appears locked in on scratching out that “mini” half. We’ll both get to see them in a rematch of final 12 months’s assembly with the Hurricanes, or we’ll see a battle of the 2 finest goaltenders on the planet in opposition to the Rangers. Either one needs to be improbable.

But that’s not even the primary occasion. That comes out West, the place we get Connor McDavid in opposition to Nathan MacKinnon within the single finest head-to-head battle between famous person forwards we’ve seen this late within the postseason since … when? Gretzky and Lemieux by no means met within the playoffs, Lemieux and Mark Messier solely received as late as Round 2, and the identical was true of Alex Ovechkin and Crosby. You may need to look again to the Wings and Avs, or perhaps even these Oiler and Islander Finals. And it’s not only a assembly of two large names on paper, as a result of McDavid has gone completely supernova over the previous few weeks, whereas MacKinnon has appeared unstoppable on quite a lot of events. Mix in an injured Leon Draisaitl nonetheless racking up factors, Cale Makar conjuring up spotlight reels, loads of supporting expertise and shaky goaltending, and this collection needs to be unbelievable.

So let’s finish this gushing fanboy screed in the one place we may: What may go mistaken?

Look, we’re all considering it. So how does this all finish badly? Are we getting that large blown name tonight, or are they saving it for the Final? Will a type of superstars get harm, depriving us of a real showdown? Is someone going to do one thing silly that deserves a suspension that they gained’t get as a result of it’s the playoffs, and we’ll all struggle about it for per week? Will the hockey gods pull the rug out from underneath a high-scoring season and ship a bunch of cautious 3-0 duds?

Maybe. It might be all of these issues, and we’re just a few weeks away from reminiscing concerning the good previous days once we have been having fun with this postseason. It’s the NHL — dumb stuff occurs, typically on the worst potential time.

But it hasn’t occurred but. So far, the 2022 playoffs have been about as near straight-As as we may think about. We don’t understand how lengthy it’s going to final, however we would as properly take pleasure in it whereas we are able to.

(Photo: Sergei Belski / USA Today)

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