April 30, 2012
Simmons: What playoff hockey feels like
By Steve Simmons, QMI Agency
NEW YORK - You forget, because it’s been so long, because it’s too easy to forget, what playoff hockey feels like.
You forget, if you’re from Winnipeg, because it’s been a lifetime and then some. You forget, if you’re from Toronto, because it used to happen, and for all the passion that is supposed to unite and doesn’t anymore.
You forget it you’re from Calgary and Edmonton, where the heartbeat of post-season hockey once lived, because at this time of year, it shuts down in Alberta.
You forget if you’re from Montreal because last year was followed by this lost year.
We are cheated, Canada, with no hockey in May, with not much in late April, with no building crazily alive the way Madison Square Garden was Monday night. You could feel it from the moment you walked in. It wasn’t just another day, another game. You felt it outside the building before you even entered. And no matter how long it has been for the majority of Canadian NHL cities, when we lose out on this, we lose something tangible from our sporting lives.
Something that’s all about us.
Our playoffs are on television, and we’re thankful for that. But bless our friends on television. They can bring us the game. They can’t bring us the feel. They can’t bring us that tingle you get from being here.
Television can’t take us to Madison Square Garden the way I sat at Madison Square Garden Monday night. The noise itself shakes your very foundation. The anticipation of every rush, every pass, every goal that isn’t. It sends a shiver through the place, a shiver through me, sitting without a rooting interest in a press box that is so close to the stands when the fans stand up -- and they do it all the time -- all you see are the backs in front of you. All you feel around you is joy, elation, and because there's no place like New York, the rawest of all emotions.
This is a place that chants “Ovie Sucks” and they seem to care that Alex Ovechkin is barely taking any shifts with the Washington Capitals until he scores the winning goal. This is a place where they toss balloons, where everyone of every age wears Rangers blue, where the crowd is almost all adult and almost no kids, where an attractive woman jumped from the stands into the press box Monday night and begged reporters to charge her phone.
Okay, so that wouldn’t happen in Manitoba or Alberta. Maybe Saskatchewan, but they don’t have a team.
I grew up in this business in Alberta and covered the Calgary Flames. In the seven years I spent there, the Flames never missed the playoffs and played for the Stanley Cup. In that same time period, the Oilers won the Cup four times and never missed the playoffs, either. Hell, 26 years ago Monday, Steve Smith scored an infamous goal in his own net that prevented the Oilers from winning five Stanley Cups in a row.
We got spoiled with all that success. We thought it would be every year. But every year seems so long ago.
Look around. Toronto still plays in the old NHL. The last time Winnipeg was in the playoffs was the season before they left. Jarome Iginla has played 15 years for the Flames - he’s missed the playoffs in two-thirds of those years, 10 in all. Talk about wasting a talent. And the last time Edmonton was in the playoffs, the Oilers played for the Stanley Cup.
The game at the Garden was no classic Monday. It wasn't close to that of Pittsburgh-Philadelphia in Round 1. There was a lot of dump, a lot of chase, a lot of hysteria. The series between Washington and New York is tied 1-1.
And as I left the world’s most famous sports arena, I felt both elated and sad, all the while thinking: God, I miss this.