Ah, playoff time in the National Hockey League.
As usual, the Chicago Blackhawks are in the thick of it.
Will they repeat as Stanley Cup champions? The next few weeks will tell the tale.
Of course, the business at hand is to get past the Minnesota Wild to make it to the Western Conference final.
In the rearview mirror are the St. Louis Blues, who were seeded higher than the Blackhawks and acquired goalie Ryan Miller for a chance to win it all.
I’ll admit I was a little concerned when the Blues won the first two games, albeit by close margins. Blame my angst on not having home-ice advantage. Thankfully, that hasn’t happened too often for the Blackhawks in recent years.
Yet when the dust cleared, the Hawks rolled off four straight wins to claim the series and move onto the next round.
So right now is the best of times and the worst of times for me as a Blackhawks fan.
The playoffs bring some of the best hockey. Watch any playoff game and you’re likely to see some of the fastest skating, the biggest hits and the most pulse-pounding action of the season.
More games go to overtime, since defenses tighten up and the best goalies go head to head. Or toe save to toe save.
You’re more likely to see jaw-dropping goals ala winger Patrick Kane’s backhanded top-shelf number in Game 1 against the Wild.
When the stakes get higher, some players find another gear. Winger Bryan Bickell comes to mind.
Here’s a guy who scored 11 goals in 59 games all season. He gets to the playoffs, and he’s already scored five goals in eight games. Maybe that’s why the Blackhawks signed him to a four-year, $16 million contract after last season.
This also is the time for the team’s warriors to shine. Who didn’t wince when they saw defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson take a puck off the neck in Game 2? Thing is, he never missed a shift.
No wonder the commentary guys call that “sacrificing the body.” Ouch.
When it’s all done, we’ll hear about the horrific injuries some of the players are dealing with. Who can forget that winger Marian Hossa was playing with a foot he couldn’t even feel because of a back injury during the Cup run last year?
In the end, hoisting Lord Stanley’s trophy was more than worth the cost.
Of course, I’m not sure my heart can take another series like the one the Blackhawks had against the Detroit Red Wings last season. The Hawks were down 3-1 in that series and had to claw their way to Game 7. And then they had to win that in overtime.
Despite loving that the Blackhawks are in the playoffs, I’m just a little stressed out right now.
So if you need me, I’ll be the one screaming at the TV and grabbing for the antacids.
• Joan Oliver is the former Northwest Herald assistant news editor. She has been associated with the Northwest Herald since 1990. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.