Effingham Daily News, Effingham, IL

April 19, 2014

Czachorski: Time to catch Cup fever

Ryan Czachorski
Effingham Daily News

EFFINGHAM — I woke up early Friday morning and did something I never do these days -- I flipped on SportsCenter.

It was the top of the 7 a.m. hour, and unshockingly, ESPN led with discussion of the playoffs.

What left me flabbergasted was they were leading with the NHL playoffs, as I was truly unaware ESPN remembered that hockey was a sport.

Hyperbole aside, Thursday night's slate of action was worth it. Colorado overcame a 4-2 deficit to beat Minnesota 5-4 in overtime thanks to two goals by Paul Stasny and three assists by 18-year-old Nathan McKinnon.

But the game that stole the show was the game that probably was of the most interest to the area fans, the triple overtime war between Chicago and St. Louis.

I watched the whole game. I'm a fan of neither team -- actually, until this season when my beloved Detroit Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference, it was a game between two teams I've been conditioned to root against.

But what a game it was. There was an early flurry of goals on both ends, a middle section where scoring chances were plentiful but unfruitful before Jaden Schwartz tied the game with under two minutes left.

And that was just regulation.

The first overtime was a clinic by the Blackhawks, putting the screw to the Blues' defense, only to be turned away time and time again by new goalie Ryan Miller, and once by center Maxim Lapierre in the crease.

The intensity continued to ratchet up, reaching a climax in the second overtime as Miller stoned the Blackhawks' Patrick Sharp on a breakaway. They re-Zamboni'd the ice, the Blues came out and got the game winner from Alexander Steen in the longest game in Blues history 26 seconds in to overtime.

Right there, that whole game, is why I love hockey.

I've written a column to this affect before, weeks after arriving in Effingham. I'll bet I'll write one again at some point.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are the perfect time to jump in. Before I became a full-fledged, live-and-die-with-every-game fan, I basically just cruised through the regular season with little attention and turned it on for the playoffs. (It helps the Red Wings have made it 23 years running.)

The current field is amazing, with rivarlies abound and great storylines, like aforementioned McKinnon leading the Avalanche to the top seed in the Central Division after being the number one draft pick last year.

You've got young and old players, new and storied teams, great matchups across the board.

There's a reason it's bandied about that the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best in sports, with a level of intensity that can't be matched and a truly unpredictable ending every year.

The reason is because it's true.

Jump on board with a great series in your backyard, and maybe stick around awhile. ESPN might even get the memo.