Grand time to be a hockey fan

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:14 PM ET

When Gary Bettman signed off his weekly XM Satellite radio show Thursday night after many feel-good calls from listeners, the fade out was Long May You Run by Neil Young.

If the NHL can keep this playoff vibe rolling, the commish could soon be joining Young, son of a hockey writer and a big Sharks’ fan, for a duet of Sugar Mountain. And that’s after the league lost its two marquee marksmen, Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, courtesy of the Canadiens.

Aside from Wednesday’s night’s aggressive window shopping by a few Montreal louts, it’s a grand time to be a hockey fan, whether you’re the pin-striped Bettman or wearing the jersey of the five surviving teams.

In the East, more verses are added to ballad of Les Canadiens by the day, after two giant-killing, seven-game series, having trailed in both, but fairly won, right on the opponent’s pond. Winnipeg might not get the Coyotes this year, but Canada could have its first Stanley Cup winner since 1993 when another Montreal team with this kind of destiny in its DNA emerged in May and June.

“We played Washington and were supposed to get killed, we played (Pittsburgh) and were supposed to get killed,” Habs defenceman Hal Gill said. “It’s nice to be part of a team that gets things done.”

Asked if the league lamented losing a vital market such as Pittsburgh and the presence of Crosby, deputy commissioner Bill Daly insisted the New York office had “no complaints.”

“From a pure U.S. network perspective, they will lose a big market,” he told XM, “but having said that, if you had a Canadian team to pick for ratings, it would be Montreal. Fans of those (ousted) 26 teams will want to get behind an underdog. If you looked at the blogs and the chat rooms, probably the biggest rooters for Montreal were the Capitals’ fans.

“From a league perspective, the more series that go six or seven the better. This is the most playoff games we’ve played (in almost 20 years).”

In the Western Conference, those bearded Swedes from Detroit have cancelled this year. The Clarence Campbell Bowl will instead be contested between the Chicago Blackhawks, a year shy of 50 without a title, and the San Jose Sharks, considered the best team never to win the Cup after a series of first- and second-round flops.

The only person who might want to change channels when these two face off Sunday evening is Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson. On one hand the Sharks fired him for playoff failures with many of these same big guns, but if the Hawks prevail, Wilson’s Leafs will be one step closer to having the league’s longest Cup drought at 44 years, a millstone no one on the Leafs wants to carry next season.

The Sharks are bigger, have the more-seasoned goaltender in Evgeni Nabokov and will enjoy home ice, but all three factors meant zilch for Pittsburgh and Washington when they stood in the post-series’ handshake line with the small fry Habs.

“Goaltending has become the most important part of the game the past 10 years,” said former player/analyst Phil Esposito. “Teams that have it better keep it, teams that don’t better find it.”

Which brings us to the weekend appetizer, Game 7 between the Flyers and Bruins, with Philly in position for just the third reverse sweep since 1939. The Flyers, who have expired spring after spring from shoddy goaltending, resurrected Brian Boucher to beat Martin Brodeur of the Devils in the first round and when Boucher was hurt, they brought back Michael Leighton, whom Boucher had replaced, to allow only one goal in five periods.

If Boston does snap out of it and win, that means two fierce rivals with 32 playoff meetings behind them will go Sunday, a possible prelude to the first Original Six Cup final since Montreal-New York Rangers in 1979.


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