After months of enduring the regular-season teasing, hockey-addicted Canadian hockey fans finally got their much-needed fix Wednesday night with the return of the Hunger Games, NHL style.
Only one survivor will emerge, battered, bruised and a little more hairy, from this gruelling tournament, but there will be winners every night — the hockey fans who feel like kids at Christmas and can’t get enough of this playoff stuff.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year (now sing it with me).
OK, we digress.
Now, let’s raise the curtain on this two-month-long song and dance ...
THE KID’S ALL RIGHT
It didn’t take long for Sidney Crosby to make his presence felt while playing his first playoff game in 22 months. Crosby scored just a few minutes into the the Penguins-Flyers game and did so while taking a couple of borderline high hits from Flyers defenders. Given Crosby’s injury history, it is going to be tough for him to get through such a physical, rivalry-fuelled series with Flyers. If ever there is to be a test of his ability to withstand punishment without getting a concussion, this is it ... Two goals on the first six shots? Yup, that sounds like the Ilya Bryzgalov we know and love at playoff time ... The man they call “Universe” was at his quotable best before the game, especially when asked about the biggest threat the Penguins have. “I’m not afraid of anything. I’m only afraid of bear. Bear in the forest.” Never change, Ilya, never change ... You know what Flyers fans are afraid of? Bryzly bears. I know, that was terrible, but I couldn’t resist ... The Flyers allowed the second most first-period goals in the NHL during the regular season, which helps explain why they were able to achieve the following stat: They won seven games when they trailed by two or more goals ... I wrote that last line in the first period, not knowing it would be prophetic. The comeback kids did it again Wednesday, roaring back from 3-0 down to tie the game in the third and win it when Jakub Voracek scored in overtime.
The Penguins got sloppy in the second period, turning pucks over in the neutral zone, which is an invitation to a comeback when you are up 3-0. You could feel the momentum swinging even before Danny Briere got a gift of a goal to make it 3-1. We say gift because Briere was way offside. The NHL says it picks its best officials for the playoffs, but that was absolute garbage. Linesman Tony Sericolo was way out of position and totally blew it, and we don’t mean his whistle ... There was nothing wrong with Briere’s second goal, that made it 3-2, although we somehow doubt Marc-Andre Fleury enjoyed being screened by Crosby ... Briere has been money in the playoffs in recent years. He now has 44 career playoff goals and is a post-season stud ... Brayden Schenn only has one career playoff goal but it was a huge one, redirecting a pass from Scott Hartnell to tie it up. Schenn had a goal and two assists through the end of regulation time, which makes him an early candidate for fantasy sleeper of the year ... Great start by Sid the Kid. Monster comeback by the Flyers. Game 1 of the playoffs goes to overtime. Priceless ... An awful lot of people who picked the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup this year are thinking again after that stunning collapse. Good thing it’s a long race, because that was a hell of a stumble out of the gate.
TOUGH START FOR CANUCKS
The Canucks got some bad news when it was announced Daniel Sedin is still suffering from concussion symptoms and would not play Wednesday night against the L.A. Kings. On the bright side, the Canucks went 8-1 down the stretch without Daniel so they’re not exactly shivering in their skates at the prospect of playing without him ... Fans may have lost faith in Roberto Luongo, but the goaltender was the only reason the Canucks were in Wednesday’s game against the Kings. L.A. owned the Canucks in the early going, but the much maligned Luongo was the difference, making four big saves before his team even got a shot on goal. He made big stops all night long as the Canucks got into penalty trouble, got badly outshot and eventually lost 4-2 on a late goal by Dustin Penner, of all players, and an empty-netter ... Those annoying green men were back in Vancouver Wednesday night. That was so last year. Like playoff riots and Justin Bieber ... The City of Glendale, Ariz., is moving forward in an attempt to close a deal with another potential owner (this time former Sharks CEO Greg Jamison). If I had a dollar for every time I’ve read that before, I might be able to buy the Coyotes.
PREDS RECIPE FOR SUCCESS
Ugly start to the playoffs for the Detroit Red Wings as Paul Gaustad banked one off defenceman Brad Stuart from the corner to get the Nashville Predators on the board. The Predators have the second-lowest payroll ($52.1 million) of any team in the playoffs (only Ottawa is lower) but they’ve been built for success and the gritty Gaustad was another solid addition for a team that could finally be ready to take a long run in the post-season ... The Predators have a few things going for them that suggest they’re built for the playoffs: The best power play in the league, the 10th best penalty killing and an outstanding defensive system that they stick to religiously. They certainly looked good in their 3-2 win over the Wings Wednesday night ... Preds defenceman Shea Weber should be hearing from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan. His blow to the head on Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg was the kind of thing suspensions are made of. The same goes for Byron Bitz of the Canucks for his hit on L.A.'s Kyle Clifford. Somehow I think the Preds would miss Weber more.