It’s Nice to Have You Back, Lord Stanley: The 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs Are Here

Sports Commentary by: Tanner Ballard

“It’s the most, wonderful time of the year”…if you’re a hockey fan, of course.

If you’re not a hockey fan, well, you’re missing out. Why? Because the Stanley Cup playoffs are in full swing, and, in my humble (but correct) opinion, there is nothing quite like the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Now, I realize this is the state of Georgia, and well, let’s be honest, hockey isn’t a big thing here.

After all, Atlanta lost the Thrashers to Winnipeg some five years ago. No ill-will towards Georgia, but it’s pretty obvious hockey isn’t their thing.

Now then, let’s take off the blinders here and realize that there are more sports than football. I mean, there’s hard hits and even fighting in hockey, so it’s close enough, right?

I’ve spent 10 years of my life living up north (Green Bay, Wisconsin and Geneva, Illinois, specifically), and hockey became an integral part of my life. While I have never play hockey for a team, I am certainly a fan.

Trust me, it’s not hard to be a fan of a sport that plays for a trophy so unique as the Stanley Cup. Hockey is an exciting sport to watch anytime, but when you combine that viewership with the fact that these teams have played an 82 game regular season and are now playing even harder for a trophy that has existed since 1893. It’s epic.

So far, the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs haven’t been far from epic. Fast paced, hard hitting and tightly contested, Round 1 was everything that makes a hockey fan’s mouth water.

Let’s take a look back at Round 1, which consisted of 8 best-of-7 series.

In the Eastern Conference, the New York Islanders took down the Florida Panthers in exciting fashion with a double-overtime victory in game 6 of their series. The 2015 Stanley Cup runner up Tampa Bay Lightning took care of the Detroit Red Wings in 5 games.

Meanwhile, the President’s Trophy (awarded to the team with best record in the regular season) winning Washington Capitals needed 6 games to end the season of the pesky Philadelphia Flyers. The Pittsburgh Penguins offensive firepower hounded the Rangers into losing in 5 games, with the Pens scoring 23 goals in those 5 games.

Out West things were equally, if not more, interesting. The San Jose Sharks surprised everyone, especially non-suspecting L.A. celebrities, by defeating the Los Angeles Kings in 5 games. The Nashville Predators fended off the Anaheim Ducks in an excellent back and forth series that went to game 7.

The Dallas Stars, ranked number 1 in the West, took care of a late-blooming Minnesota Wild team who were always there to come back and make each game interesting. That series went to 6 games.

Finally, and there’s a reason this series is separated from the rest, the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues played it out to 7 games. That reason is that I am a huge Blackhawks fan. (And before you jump on me for being a “bandwagon” fan, kindly note that I lived in the Chicagoland area for 7 years; therefore, I bleed black and red)

The Hawks were off in this series, in my opinion, and the Blues were themselves; hard-hitting, quick-to-the-puck and had excellent goaltending from Brian Elliott.

The Blues won an intense game 7 after being up in the series 3 games to 1. From a neutral perspective, it was a wonderful series. For a Blackhawks fan, however, it was excruciating. Especially when Brent Seabrook’s shot hit BOTH goal-posts with 4 minutes left in the game.

I mean, come on.

Anyways, as with any sports fan whose team is knocked out, you have to move on…and cheer for the team who is playing the team that just beat you.

Round 2 has commenced and only promises to get better as teams get closer to the greatest trophy in the history of sports. The Stanley Cup is not far out of sight, but who will lift it and revel in its glory?

Will it be Cal Clutterbuck of the Islanders? Or maybe Vladislav Namestnikov of the Lightning? It could be Vladimir Tarasenko of the Blues, or even Valeri Nichushkin of the Stars.

The only way to find out is to tune in to the excitement of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs.