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It’s the best time of the year: NHL playoff season

Excitement and intrigue are aplenty in playoff hockey

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It’s the best time of the year: NHL playoff season

(Tribune News Service)

(Tribune News Service)

(Tribune News Service)

(Tribune News Service)

By Ryan Ames, Assistant Sports Editor

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Game 7 of the Boston Bruins versus Toronto Maple Leafs opening round series in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs exemplifies everything that is right with National Hockey League playoff hockey.

Eleven goals were scored, tensions were high and the fans inside the TD Garden were rocking —  particularly in the third period as the Bruins were on their way to a 7-4, series-clinching victory.

As a B’s fan, seeing the black-and-gold win is a good day in and of itself, but victories in the playoffs are a completely different animal.

Playoff hockey is unlike any other sport because the players nearly surrender their everyday well-being to the sport just for a chance to claim Lord Stanley’s Cup.

Example No. 1: In Game 1, Bruins rookie Jake DeBrusk took a hard hit from Tampa Bay Lightning forward Alex Killorn in the third period and appeared dazed. Rather than stay down and force the referee to blow the play dead, DeBrusk got up, retrieved his stick, blocked a shot with his shin pad, won a puck battle in the corner and then dove to clear the puck out of the defensive zone, all coming in the same shift. DeBrusk scored later on in the period. The hockey gods were appreciative.

Example No. 2: The 2013 playoffs have largely been wiped out of my memory for obvious reasons (hint: two goals in 1:16), but Patrice Bergeron’s resilience is the stuff of legends. After losing Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final, it was revealed that Bergeron played through a broken rib, torn cartilage and muscle tissue, a separated shoulder and worst of all, a punctured lung. That’s right, the man played a hockey game with a hole in the organ that allows him to breathe. Dedication doesn’t even begin to describe this instance.

Example No. 3: Any B’s fan that didn’t know who Gregory Campbell was before June 5, 2013 found out shortly thereafter. On the penalty kill, Campbell blocked a ferocious slap shot from Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin with his right leg. In obvious distress, Campbell was hobbling around for the next minute or so before being able to change up. Later on, it was determined that shot broke Campbell’s right fibula, thus cementing his heroic status in Bruins’ folklore forever.

Philadelphia Flyers forwards Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds also played through substantial injuries this year as the former suffered a torn MCL in practice but played two more playoff games anyway and the latter competed through the entire 2017-18 season with a partially torn pelvis muscle.

If you don’t get the picture by now, I’m afraid I can’t help you, but hockey players are warriors and will do whatever it takes to win, especially in the playoffs.

That attitude rubs off on entire squads, resulting in competition that can’t be rivaled in any other professional sport’s playoff setting.

Last year’s tournament is a perfect example, as the Nashville Predators were the last team to qualify for the postseason but ended up just two wins shy of earning the franchise’s first Stanley Cup.

Game 7s are commonplace as well, with series’ rarely ending after just four games. In fact, seven Game 7s have taken place in the 2011 and 2014 playoffs — the most sets of Game 7s in the last decade — and the Bruins have participated in a league-high 26 Game 7s.

The second round is right in the thick of things, so it’s not too late to join the excitement. At this point, the stakes are so high that you won’t stumble upon a snoozer, or at least you shouldn’t, so if your T.V. shows just aren’t cutting it or baseball is lacking that drama for your taste, the NHL playoffs are a good place to land.

Who knows, you might even find yourself rooting for a team you have no connection to.

That’s the beauty of playoff hockey.

Ryan Ames can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @_RyanAmes.

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