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Tuesday, August 09, 2022
<p>Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback (39) makes a save as Montreal winger Max Pacioretty (67) looks for a rebound during Game 1 of their first-round playoff series in Tampa.</p>

Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback (39) makes a save as Montreal winger Max Pacioretty (67) looks for a rebound during Game 1 of their first-round playoff series in Tampa.

Hockey is effing great. It’s full of cool stuff.

In hockey, you can see a forward leading the rush up ice, put his head down for an instant, only to get bulldozed by a prowling defenseman.

Goalies make impossible saves regularly, haphazardly waving an occasional arm or leg (or even their masked faces) to deflect a small, vulcanized rubber disc, which sometimes travels at speeds in excess of 100 mph, away from the twine that sits behind them. Skaters bob, weave and spin their ways around defenders to make a no-look pass or maybe even score a goal, with a deafening goal horn to punctuate the magic.

And there’s fighting.

The bruisers fight each other, mainly. Sometimes it’s staged goonery, but other times it’s the boiling over of real frustration, with the outcome potentially altering the end result of a game, series or even a season.

Goalies and even coaches get in on the fisticuffs occasionally, all at the cost of five minutes in the penalty box.

And all of that happens in a single game.

Hockey also has an incomparable history.

By the 1950s, celebrated figures like Maurice “The Rocket” Richard and Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, played their greatest seasons for the Montreal Canadiens and Detroit Red Wings, respectively.

Howe was a real badass. To illustrate my point, a hockey colloquialism called a “Gordie Howe Hat Trick” happens when a player scores a goal, earns an assist and gets into a fight in one game — things Howe used to do regularly.

Howe, a 23-time All-Star, played more than 30 years in the NHL, won four Stanley Cups and played until he was 52 years old.

And this didn’t happen during Ty Cobb’s ragtime era, either. This was through 1980.

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In recent years, the level of parity in the NHL playoffs has been akin to that of March Madness.

Eight seeds beating one seeds in the first round is a fairly common occurrence.

A Cinderella danced its way to a Stanley Cup in 2012 when the Los Angeles Kings, the lowest seed in their conference, beat the sixth-seeded New Jersey Devils.

Winning a seven-game series after dropping the first three games — that happens.

The Philadelphia Flyers did it in 2010. After being down 3-0 in the conference semifinals to the Boston Bruins, the Flyers went on to win the next four games, despite trailing 3-0 in Game 7.

Sudden-death overtime is also a regular affair in the playoffs, coupled with the puckering sphincters of the participating teams’ fans.

All the tangible aspects are there for hockey to sweep a population off its feet. Just look at Canada.

In the States, however, the exposure is paltry at best.

The NHL is the redheaded stepchild of the four major sports.

It’s about as well-known in America — particularly Florida — as Karl-Petter Thorwaldsson, president of the Swedish Trade Union Confederation.

Perhaps it’s because the NHL features the occasional game on the Food Network or QVC, or whatever the hell network they’re showing games and stuff on these days (Sources tell me you can find traces of hockey on NBC Sports Network, sandwiched between Spike and VH1 on the channel guide here in Gainesville, but that has not yet been confirmed).

With this season’s installment of the postseason starting this week (if not on NBCSN, probably on public access television), tune in. The NBA playoffs aren’t going to matter until the conference finals, anyway.

Follow Gordon Streisand on Twitter @gordonstreisand

Tampa Bay goalie Anders Lindback (39) makes a save as Montreal winger Max Pacioretty (67) looks for a rebound during Game 1 of their first-round playoff series in Tampa.

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