Monday, April 02, 2007

Spring Fever

I was watching the Flames-Canucks game the other night and one of the commentators mentioned a conversation he had earlier in the day with Flames’ goaltender Miikka Kiprusoff. He said that Kipper had a twinkle in his eye when asked what was behind his excellent play lately. “It’s playoff time,” he responded.


Can you feel it? The air is crackling with excitement. The games are hard-fought nailbiters. The races are tight and going down to the wire. It is playoff time, and even though for us Caps fans the season is over, for 16 teams and their fans the second season is just beginning. And it doesn’t matter what team you root for - if you’re a hockey fan at all you can’t help but love this time of year.

Every single game between now and next weekend will have that extra bit of passion, that extra sparkle that makes you lean forward that much further in your seat. Every play has meaning, every fight is a battle for momentum and pride, every penalty kill is a life or death situation.

That’s not to say that regular season hockey isn’t exciting or intense. It is. And that’s what makes this time of year even more thrilling, because it takes that usual level of intensity and ramps it up into overdrive. You only have to look at the battles taking place in each conference as we round the corner into the final handful of days of hockey to see why. It’s the battle for eighth place in the East. It’s the battle for eighth place in the West. It’s the jockeying for position within both the East and the West. It’s the fight for the division titles that will guarantee home ice advantage.

The excitement of this time of year brings back memories of a packed Caps Centre, the crowd on its feet waving white towels, the battle on the ice whipping them into a frenzy. It reminds me of what we hopefully have to look forward to in the coming years. I can almost picture it. Ovechkin scoring the game-winning goal. Jurcina dishing out the big hits. Olie making the save of the game. Overtimes. Pom-poms. Goal horns. The unbridled joy of a victorious hockey team as they pour onto the ice. And my favorite tradition, the post-series handshake, exhibiting the sportsmanship and respect we all come to know as spectators of this great sport.

Smell the air – right now it may be filled with the scent of cherry blossoms and the distinct odor of tourists. Next year though it may be the sweet smell of victory. If we’ve learned anything from watching the teams that are on the way to the postseason, it's that the right pieces can make a bottom-feeding team into a high-flying team overnight. Until then, I hope everyone takes a moment to soak in this postseason for all its thrills and agonies, surprises and upsets, grit and intensity and playoff beards and battle scars and the Holy Grail of Hockey – the Stanley Cup.

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