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NHL New York Rangers

What does the NHL want for the Stanley Cup playoffs?

After the Red Wings crawled out of a 3-1 hole in the third period against the San Jose Sharks, the team from Hockeytown has a pulse in the series after dropping the first three games of their Western Conference Semifinals series. Even though the NHL front office shouldn’t take sides, they really are because with Detroit alive and well in this matchup, there could be greener pastures ahead and yes, take that both figuratively and literally.

Throughout recent history, the National Hockey League has taken a backseat to the three other major sports leagues, the NBA, NFL, and MLB. But with the bigger market, blue-blood teams like the Wings and the Boston Bruins (who swept the Philadelphia Flyers), there is potential for a money machine for the Cup Finals. Of course, the Red Wings would have to win the final two games and complete a historic comeback and Philly would have to win their series against the Lightning. But this could be a road for disaster.

No disrespect to these two teams, but what if the Lightning and Predators met in the Stanley Cup finals? You know, because when thinking about the cities of Tampa Bay and Nashville, hockey is the first thing everyone thinks of. Tampa eliminated the Washington Capitals with no trouble, leaving Alexander Ovechkin with another disappointing playoff finish, but the Preds also have work to do, down 3-2 to the Vancouver Canucks with a home game looming.

Having Vancouver in the Finals would bring a Canadian team into the championship discussion and the whole country up north would be closely tuned in, waiting for a Cup that has eluded the nation for more than two decades. Some crazy people pitched the idea that this year’s Canucks squad could be the best team ever assembled. I don’t even think it’s necessary to respond to that because quite frankly, they have completely lost their minds.

But with a matchup of the Bruins and Wings, you have two major cities with Original 6 franchises and the ratings for the Finals would be pretty good. I personally thought Boston was the team to beat in these playoffs, so it’s no surprise to me they are where they are. That is the optimal matchup for the league to see to rake in as much cash as possible. Before the economy started to sink, Joe Louis Arena was sold out every single game for a ridiculous streak that ended a few years ago. And Bostonians are always passionate when it comes to playoff games.

So what do I want to see? I have to meet somewhere in the middle for being good for the game and a rooting interest, so I’d like to see the Tampa Bay Lightning faceoff against the Detroit Red Wings. Time is running out for guys like Nicklas Lidstrom, Mike Modano, and Chris Osgood. Wouldn’t it be great to see those three great NHLers ride off in the sunset as champs? Plus, seeing young phenom Steven Stamkos play in front of the ageless Dwayne Roloson would be a real treat. I really want to see Tampa because as a Rangers fan, do not like the Bruins. Being a country music fan, I’d love to see the Preds and the city of Nashville to have something to cheer about. But again, a Bolts/Preds matchup would be a living hell for commissioner Gary Bettman and the hierarchy of the league.

This year’s Stanley Cup Finals is especially important because of the rocky future that lies ahead. Currently, the NFL is in a lockout and even though the two sides will come up with an agreement eventually, there is still a chance the season could be cancelled. The NBA also has labor issues and that could threaten games being played. That would be from October-March, all eyes would be on hockey, a sport that isn’t embraced enough here in the United States. And having a championship series that could garner a lot of attention could carry serious momentum into the 2011-12 campaign. That and the new television deal the league extended with Versus (or whatever they are going to call it now).

Again, this is no reflection on what the league has said, because the league hasn’t publicly said which teams “they prefer” fighting for Lord Stanley’s Cup. But do you really think that when Bettman says “I just want to see a competitive postseason,” he really means it? That there’s a chance of two small-market teams that don’t have the strongest national following or household names and he’s ok with that? Anyway, for the sake of my emotional state and more importantly, the state of the National Hockey League, go Lightning and Red Wings!