Ice Hockey - Thrilling play-offs undo lockout damage but still work ahead

The National Hockey League (NHL) was basking in the glow of a riveting post-season on Tuesday that helped undo much of the damage caused by a labour dispute that nearly wiped out the entire season.

Reuters
Ice Hockey - Playoff push sets up wild finish to regular season
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The Chicago Blackhawks claimed a second Stanley Cup in four years on Monday beating the Boston Bruins in a pulsating series that pitted two of the NHL's 'Original Six' teams against each other for the first time since 1979.

After the ugly underbelly of professional sports was exposed when players and owners spent months fighting over how to spilt the NHL's $3.3 billion (£2.1 billion) revenue pie, a breathtaking postseason reminded disillusioned fans of all that is good about hockey.

One of sport's greatest tests of endurance, NHL players must survive the grind of a two-month postseason and four punishing best-of-seven series before they earn the right to sip from Lord Stanley's famous mug.

Playing through pain and fatigue, the Bruins and Blackhawks reminded fans that it is still sometimes about the game and not always the money.

The season that almost never was, will go down as one of the most intriguing in the NHL's long and rich history, culminating in a tightly-contested championship series that had fans on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

A rollicking Finals that featured three overtimes, including one triple overtime, came to a dramatic end on a steamy night in Boston as Chicago staged an improbable comeback with two goals in a 17-second span of the final 76 seconds for a 3-2 victory that gave them a 4-2 win in the best-of-seven series.

"It was one of those seasons we were saying, we're almost charmed the way we started the season and the way we ended," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville, whose team set an NHL record by collecting at least a point over their first 24 regular season games, told reporters. "Nobody saw that one coming either way.

"A lot of great things in between, some great challenges in this playoff series or this playoff round, and then let alone the other three (series).

"But it was one of those seasons, fairytale ending and an amazing season."

For the NHL it was also a fairytale ending to an amazing season that had appeared headed for disaster with angry fans threatening to turn their backs on the league they felt had deserted them.

The NHL, however, will have little time to savor record television ratings and rave reviews as it continues to mop up the damage done by the lockout.

Before the Stanley Cup is paraded through Chicago's streets, the focus of the hockey world will have already shifted to New Jersey where the NHL will hold its annual draft on Saturday.

It will be followed almost immediately by the start of free agency that is sure to be tumultuous as teams come to grips with a new collective bargaining agreement and salary cap.

There is also serious work to be done on the international front as NHL owners and players decide if they will take part in the Sochi Olympics in February.

With the Winter Games just eight months away, time to strike a deal is quickly running out as negotiations between the NHL and the International Olympic Committee and International Ice Hockey Federation drag on.

Planning for next season will quickly pick up pace too, as the NHL attacks an ambitious calendar that will include a series of outdoor games, including one in sunny Los Angeles and the re-launch of the popular New Year's Day Winter Classic that was one of the high profile casualties of the lockout.

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