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NHL Winter Classic: 
Is it Time to Tune In to the NHL Yet?    Share

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01 January 2011

Generally speaking, there are two types of NHL fans:  the diehards and the mildly interested.  The diehards are just like in any other sport; you know they type.  You wear the team’s jersey, you or your friends are season ticket holders, you name you first born Sidney or whoever the star in your town is.

The rest of us are mildly interested.  Of course there are levels of mildly interested.  If you live in Kansas City and you are mildly interested, you probably are closer to barely interested than really interested.  If you live in Boston or Detroit, though, it’s hard not to notice what’s going on with hockey.

The mildly interested have the luxury of not paying attention to the NHL for the first few (meaningless) months.  So for those of you who’d like to be mildly interested but you haven’t paid attention yet, don’t worry, it’s not too late.  In fact, here’s what you need to know:

The Winter Classic: What is it and is it important? 
Once a year, the NHL has a regular season game played outdoors in another famous sports arena.  This year it’s in Pittsburgh at the Steelers’ football stadium and in the past it’s been in places like Buffalo (football stadium), Chicago’s Wrigley Field (baseball), and Boston’s Fenway Park (baseball). 

The bottom line is that it’s a neat event, but really doesn’t matter, since it’s just one regular season game.  If you want to read more on the game between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals check out the official site on

Playoff Race: 
This one’s easy- everyone is still in it.  In the NHL, so many teams make the playoffs that everyone still has a chance.  Teams that are below five-hundred have made the playoffs before in the NHL.  More than half the teams make the playoffs, so the 82-game regular season becomes pretty drawn out to most fans.     

The format for the playoffs is fairly simple and almost identical to the NBA.  The top eight teams in each conference make the playoffs. Teams play best-of-seven series to move through the conference and earn the right to play for the Stanley Cup

The Top Teams This Year:
This year, the top team in the Eastern Conference has been the Pittsburgh Penguins.  They are 24-11-2 heading into the Winter Classic.  The top team out West is the Vancouver Canucks.
Behind these two teams are a whole group of teams that are only separated by a few points in the standings:  Philadelphia, Detroit, Tampa Bay, Boston, Dallas, and Washington.  These teams all are contending to win their division and have a shot at the #1 seed in their Conference.

Players and Stories: 

The most impressive player in 2010-2011 has been Sidney Crosby of the Penguins.  He currently has a streak of 25 straight games with a point (either an assist or goal).  The 23-year old star has been dominant and carried his team to the best record in hockey.  His 32 goals this year lead the entire NHL.

25-year old Alexander Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals is the second best player so far.  He is averaging a goal better than every third game and an assist in two out of every three games. 

The best Goaltender this year has been Boston’s Tim Thomas.  He has been a big surprise and has helped the Bruins back into the conversation as one of the best teams in hockey.  Thomas, the only American player I’ve mentioned so far, has five shutouts and is the only goalie in hockey averaging fewer than two goals allowed per game. 

Steven Stamkos, of the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks, is the only player within 10 goals of Sidney Crosby.  Stamkos’ 31 goals are only one shy of Crosby’s lead, but his team is currently on the cusp of making the playoffs.  Their unimpressive record has the Blackhawks currently as the #8 seed in the Western Conference. 

Playoff Prediction:  for those mildly interested fans out there, the best part of the NHL Season is the playoffs.  The sport is a lot of fun to watch on TV and it’s easy to keep track of the teams as they play in the best-of-seven series.

My call:  Bruins defeat Penguins in Eastern Conference Finals.  Detroit Red Wings defeat Vancouver in the Western Conference Finals. Bruins over Detroit for the Stanley Cup!  NOTE: this could be one of FOUR 2011 titles heading to Boston, er.. Title Town! 

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After Superstar Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins
A .500 (read aloud: “five-hundred”) record is when you win the same amount of games as you lose.  If you lose more than you win, then you are “below five-hundred.
the NHL has two conferences, Eastern and Western, with 15 teams each
The trophy is named the Stanley Cup.  The Cup has a life of its own and has the names of all the past winners engraved on it.  Each player from the winning team gets The Cup for a day during the summer and can take it wherever he wants.
 24 wins, 11 losses, and 2 ties
In each conference there are 3 divisions
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