When it comes to NHL Finals, there's nothing like the Original
No sport does tradition quite like hockey does, and no tradition touches hockey fans -- fans of a certain age, at least -- quite like the sight of an Original Six logo.
So it is that the Stanley Cup Finals that begin Wednesday night between the Bruins and Blackhawks has stirred the sport unlike any other in a long time.
How long? Two Original Six franchises have not met in the championship round since the Canadiens defeated the Rangers in 1979.
Even at the time, those Rangers -- most of them Canadian -- appreciated the magnitude of facing the Canadiens, the three-time defending Cup champions.
"For guys my age, it brings you back to your childhood," said Ron Duguay, a 21-year-old rising star in 1979, a 55-year-old MSG analyst now. "More than the players, it's the logo, the team."
So did meeting Montreal in the final add to the excitement?
"Absolutely," Duguay said. "That was a big deal for a young Canadian who grew up in the '60s. Some of the players still on that team were players I grew up watching."
Dave Maloney, a 22-year-old defenseman then and a Rangers radio analyst now, said that as a hockey history buff, he finds the Bruins-Blackhawks matchup "cool," much like the one in '79.
Facing the Canadiens had special resonance compared with most potential matchups, but mostly he recalled running into the grand finale of one of the best teams in NHL history.
"I think at the end of the day, that Montreal team had nine Hall of Famers on it," Maloney said. "Maybe they were just pretty good."
The Rangers won Game 1, 4-1, but the Canadiens took the next four to make it four Cups in a row.
Might the Rangers have been sapped after surviving the ascendant Islanders in the previous round?
"I was young and so excited to make the Finals, it didn't matter; I could have just kept going," Duguay said. "I can tell you, whatever was left in the tank, we gave it to them."
The following spring, no Original Six team made the semifinals, the Islanders won the first of their four Cups and a new NHL era was at hand.
Three decades later, NBC could not be happier with the retro matchup. (Games 1, 4, 5, 6 and 7 will be on NBC; Games 2 and 3 will be on NBC Sports Network.) Chicago and Boston are huge TV markets and two of the most dedicated to hockey.
Announcers Doc Emrick, Ed Olczyk and Pierre McGuire took turns gushing on a conference call Monday, noting how far the NHL has come from the lockout that threatened the season.
"I just think it is super special," said Olczyk, who played for three of the six storied franchises in the Blackhawks, Maple Leafs and Rangers. "The Original Six adds a little extra pizzazz to the Stanley Cup Finals."
Emrick, who was calling Maine Mariners games the last time this happened, said younger fans appreciate the history.
"Occasionally we see kids wearing a [Stan] Mikita jersey or a [Bobby] Hull jersey or an [Bobby] Orr," he said.
The hope is the iconic brands also will draw fans from outside Boston and Chicago. "The game is very regional, provincial," Maloney said. "Having two teams like this in it gives it a little more punch, a little more pizzazz."
There's that word again.