Stanley Cup chase promises thrills and free hot dogs

Wed Jan 16, 2013 4:03pm EST
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By Steve Keating

(Reuters) - After dragging its fans through another draining labor dispute, the National Hockey League returns Saturday promising supporters more bang for their buck and a playoff chase sure to have hockey hearts pumping.

Having settled a 113-day lockout in time to run a shortened season, Commissioner Gary Bettman, the players and teams offered apologies to fans along with discounted tickets, merchandise, free parking and open practices.

But according to Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, while free hot dogs are nice, having a winning team is more important.

That is particularly true this season as the NHL's 30 clubs scramble to make up for the revenue shortfall during the lockout by making the playoffs and securing additional home games.

What is normally a grueling seven-month 82-game marathon will instead be a condensed, thrill-a-minute 48-game sprint to the postseason where a minor slump or injury could cost a team a shot at the Stanley Cup.

"It is going to be excitingly bizarre," St. Louis Blues coach Ken Hitchcock told reporters. "There are going to be games where no lead is safe.

"You are going to have to fight through that and keep the train on the tracks because there are going to be some emotional rollercoasters players and fans are going to go through."

The Pittsburgh Penguin are widely considered favorites to hoist the Stanley Cup when the playoffs finally reach a climax in late June.   Continued...

The Los Angeles Kings hoist the Stanley Cup during the NHL Stanley Cup hockey championship parade in Los Angeles, June 14, 2012. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson