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Jumping immediately into playoff hockey is better than I ever could have imagined

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We needed hockey more than we ever imagined.

Minnesota Wild v Vancouver Canucks Photo by Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

There hasn’t exactly been a lot to enjoy over the last five months, let’s be real. We’ve been perpetually jumping from sadness to soul-crushing disappointment — like a busted-ass frog falling in the water trying to cling to a lily pad like an ill-prepared American Ninja Warrior competitor. Deep down I hoped moving straight into the NHL Playoffs would be amazing, but had that tinge of fear that it too would let me down.

I’m beyond overjoyed that the fear was unfounded. This return of hockey has been incredible.

The NBA, WNBA, soccer and baseball all prepared us for the return of live sports — but hockey made me feel like sports were truly “back” for the first time. I think it’s because the experience feels so similar. Baseball has fake fans in the stadium and the ever-present threat that the sport could stop again due to Covid, the NBA is still finding its footing in the bubble, but the NHL really feels like it never left.

Binge-watching hockey this weekend was an absolute joy. I watched so much hockey I got one of those stress headaches from staring at a screen too long, and it was the best headache I ever had. For the first time in months I had anxiety from watching sports when my beloved Hurricanes took the ice against the Rangers, and it was some needed anxiety. Like an iodine pill before a nuclear war, the stress of hockey replaced the general anxiety of just living in 2020, and for a few hours I got to forget this year and get lost in something meaningless. It was the escape sports were always meant to provide.

People will undoubtedly argue with me about this next statement, but I’ll own it: Nothing in sports is better than playoff hockey. Playoff anything is exciting, but the stakes, paired with every goal mattering turns every shift, each penalty kill, into hand-wringing, white-knuckle anxiety that makes you watch games through split fingers as you cover your face, and also allow for everything else in the world to melt away. A lot of my friends say hockey is too stressful to watch, but right now it’s perfection.

Okay, look, I take that back. I know this isn’t all perfect. I understand that this restart of the season feels particularly unfair for teams who were already on a roll before the stoppage (cough-Bruins-cough) but this is the trade off for getting to watch hockey again — and it’s worth it. We had 10 games this weekend, half of which were settled by a single goal, the Canadiens and Penguins went to overtime ... it was all incredible.

The best part of all this? We get to do it FOR THE NEXT TEN DAYS! Five games of hockey a day in this opening qualifying round, firing off every couple of hours for our viewing pleasure. I for one keep checking the clock to see if it’s time yet to watch Game 2 of the Hurricanes vs. Rangers series, which will distract me from the fact an actual hurricanes is bearing down on North Carolina as we speak.

Thank God for hockey. If you’re not watching you should be, because I promise it’s going to distract you from everything else in the world right now. Nothing is more valuable than that.