Well folks its time to get down to the heart of the season, because the Conference Finals are here! This is the time of year when every face-off counts double, every shot blocked hurts a little less, and the players can taste the glory on the tips of their tongues. The four that remain are probably a bit of a surprise to all of us considering that only one perennial contender exists among them. Philadelphia should come as little surprise to anyone being where they are, as they rank second to Montreal in Conference Finals appearances with 14. The others though are here for the first time in case of Tampa Bay and San Jose, and for the first time since 1989 for Calgary.
There are going to be people who will complain about the lack of a large market team playing, but these people would not be happy unless the finals were Toronto vs. Detroit. The teams that are here have more than earned their right to play for it all by showing the guts and the determination it takes to make it to this point, and if Philly doesnt make it you can bet that you will hear the same complaints that surfaced for the last 3 years. That complaint is, "Who will want to watch a Tampa Bay vs. San Jose final?" Last year it was the same, "Who wants to watch Anaheim vs. New Jersey?" I have a better question though, and that is how can you call yourself a hockey fan if you DONT WATCH? Granted if you are a fan of one of the teams that will eventually be eliminated it will be tough to watch, but for the rest of us, how can you deny that which ever teams end up in the finals are going to put on a boring show in order to win it all? The answer is simple, they are not. In fact, they will put up a harder fight than any of the perennial contenders that exist right now. Let us face facts here folks and look at what kind of teams are playing right now. They are young teams that were built through smart drafting, and smart free agent signings. They are hungry teams, teams that are playing for something worthwhile for the first time in a long time and in some cases for the first time ever. Furthermore, anyone who thinks that these playoffs will be boring with the teams that are left havent been paying attention. I can honestly say that I have watched as many playoff games as possible the last two weeks and the games are nothing short of amazing. They are fast paced, highly skilled, and just plain fun to watch. I was definitely on the edge of my seat at one AM rooting Calgary on as they went to overtime to beat the Red Wings, and actually jumped out of my bed when Martin Gelinas finally did score. There was no way I was able to close my eyes for a minute while they battled into the night and skated end to end with everything they had. The same thing goes for game 1 of the Tampa Bay vs. Philadelphia series. I was at the after affair for my grandfathers funeral and did not want to be bothered because the game was so good. A look at the youth on these final four teams says a lot about where the NHL is headed, and I have nothing but praise for the next generation of NHL superstars. Watching John Cheechoo dip and weave his way to the net, marveling at the amazing puck control of Martin St. Louis, mesmerized by Jarome Iginlas leadership qualities for such a young player, and of course the emergence of Mikka Kipprusoff as a top flight goaltender, I have to stop and thank the hockey gods for giving us such a bright future. And lets not forget the veterans out there that have yet to drink from the cup like Dave Andreychuk, Martin Gelinas, Nikolai Khabibulin, and others. I have nothing but praise for these players and their drive to reach the highest of heights in the NHL. Therefore, congratulations are in order for both the young and old who have made it this far, and shame on those who think that these playoff series are boring because there are no original six or big market teams involved.
This week I want to try something new with a poll question, "Will you be watching the Finals no matter who makes it to the final bracket?" Send all your answers to NJDEVILS40@aol.com. and I will report the results back in next weeks column.
I would just like to take a small part of the end here to recognize Steve Yzerman. Yzerman never ceases to amaze me with just how much heart he puts forward and how much he is constantly giving to his team. Early last week Yzerman took a puck off his face and broke his orbital bone ending his playoffs, but it was later reported that earlier in the week he had also sustained another injury that he just played through. Two Saturdays ago, Yzerman cut his hand open and had to receive some twenty stitches to close the wound. TWENTY STITCHES and he still went out and played as hard as he could at almost 40 years of age. Folks I do not know how else to define a true warrior than to show people a picture of Stevie Y. For all the young players out there, take note because this is the way the game should be played. Crying, faking injury, and diving have no place in our game and should be punished as severely as someone who takes a two handed swing at another player with a stick. After all, in the end they both take a tremendous amount of integrity away from the game that we all love and cherish so much. So to the Mike Ribieros and Alexei Kovalevs of the world, you will NEVER win until you play the way a real champion plays. Cheers to Steve Yzerman making a full recovery, I wish you nothing but the best and hope to still see you the next time we have a regular season game, whenever that is.
Thanks again for checking out Mullets Musings, and as always questions, complaints, comments or any combination of the three are always welcome, and can be sent to NJDEVILS40@aol.com. Thanks again and stop back again next week for the results from the poll and another installment of Mullets Musings. .
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|The opinions expressed on this page are of the author, and in no way reflect the views of the NHL, it teams or players. All material in Mullet's Musings copyrighted (C) 2004 Spector's Hockey. Reproduction of this material in whole, or in part, without consent by the author or Spector's Hockey is prohibited.|