Nothing is over in playoff hockey until one team actually wins four games in a series (just ask the Chicago Blackhawks of a week or so ago), but the world is becoming tantalizingly close to a Stanley Cup Final between those Blackhawks and the Boston Bruins.
This is the stuff of dreams for hockey fans.
There is an obvious allure to having two teams with such rich histories battle it out for the greatest trophy in all of sports. No offense to the present, and this is a secret to no one, but the feelings towards watching teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning or Carolina Hurricanes recently play for the Cup often range somewhere between indifference and physical pain.
It’s time the NHL was awarded a solid dose of tradition. The last Original Six pairing in the Stanley Cup Finals occurred in 1979, when the Montreal Canadiens defeated the New York Rangers, steamrolling them in four straight games after dropping the opener.
The ratings for this year’s playoffs have been good, especially when you consider we are now living in a world where a Bruins-Penguins conference final game beat the Yankees-Red Sox nearly 2-to-1 in the 18-49 demographic. The NBC Sports Network is reaping plenty of benefits, breaking records across the board in its own hockey viewership.
So what better way to cap this season off – one that almost didn’t happen in the first place – than by pairing two original teams with upper echelon fan bases?
A matchup like this is worthwhile because of its inherent rarity. The playoff structure has changed a number of times throughout the years to accommodate expansion, with the Original Six teams being shuffled around to make room for newcomers. As the number of playoff teams has grown – and a few Original Six teams enduring particularly lean stretches – the odds have only decreased.
Like a passing comet, a Stanley Cup Final like this may only come once. Blink and you’ll miss it.
Currently, four of the teams (Boston, Montreal, New York and Toronto) sit in the Eastern Conference, while Detroit and Chicago have been the lone representatives out west. For the 2013-14 season, the NHL is realigning its conferences and five of the Original Six will play in the Eastern Conference: Boston, Detroit, Montreal, Toronto and New York. Chicago will be the lone team left in the Western Conference.
This means an Original Six Stanley Cup Final in 2013 should be savored, because the chances of it happening again will be even slimmer come next season.