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June 06, 2017

There’s something fishy about the NHL Finals for Philly fans

Although you can’t take your eyes off it, there is something truly distressing for Philadelphia sports fans watching the Stanley Cup Finals between the Nashville Predators and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

And it’s not the obvious.

Indeed, it’s painful enough to watch former coach Peter Laviolette work his emotional magic behind the Nashville bench. It doesn’t seem that long ago when Laviolette was howling about "playing with jam" from behind the Flyers bench, but that isn’t the biggest problem.

Sidney Crosby?

No doubt, watching Crosby once again compete in the Stanley Cup Finals is annoying. It’s even more annoying to hear the national commentators repeatedly pound away at what a great player Crosby has become, and rave about his status among the true greats of the NHL.

Point taken, but that is still not the most distressing issue.

What about former Sixers great Charles Barkley hopping aboard the NHL bandwagon, confounding all basketball fans as he openly raves about the Stanley Cup Finals? Only Barkley could get away with raving about one sport, while he cashes a huge check from a network televising the NBA Finals – which, Barkley says, he finds boring compared to the NHL.

For Philadelphia fans, wouldn’t it be so much nicer if Barkley was at least raving about a show with one of the Philadelphia teams competing?

And therein lies the problem. The most distressful aspect of watching the drama between the Penguins and the Predators is the show itself. No matter who ultimately wins the series which is tied at two games apiece as they enter game five tomorrow night in Pittsburgh, it is not being part of the show that burns the hottest.

One peek at any TV screen during the Stanley Cup Finals – and to a lesser extent the NBA Finals – is a shocking reminder of what things used to be like in Philadelphia, and how long it’s been since there was that sort of party.

The TV shots that kill often times don’t even include the game. Instead, they are the pictures of the fans both inside and outside of the arenas. They are the videos of the huge crowds in the “other” city, packed into an empty arena to watch the game on the big screen.

Was it really that long ago – way back in 2010 – when it was the Wells Fargo Center filled to the rafters while the Flyers played Game 7 in Boston? Was it that long ago that Laviolette was guiding his last-seeded team to the Stanley Cup Finals as he again has in Nashville?

Is it that long ago that Citizens Bank Park was a huge party night after night through the summer, and then an absolute state fair of fun during the playoffs?

Playoffs? Did someone say playoffs? Like back in the days when Pat Croce was rappelling from the roof of the Sixers arena and Allen Iverson was breaking ankles in a dramatic playoff run?

Was it that long ago (2008) when the Eagles won a playoff game at home?

It is most painful to watch the games in Nashville, where the Predators are 9-1 in this playoff season, and see the sights and sounds of a crowd base delirious with excitement. Catfish all over the ice, a howling mass of fans inside and outside the building, and even drama as to which country star will sing the National Anthem.

It might seem trivial, but there was a day in Philadelphia where the presence of a certain singer would cause the opposing hockey team to shake in its skates before the puck was even dropped for the opening faceoff.

That is the kind of drama that has been building in Nashville, and the pure energy of the place absolutely bleeds through the TV screen, and you start to worry not so much about which team will win the game, but when will that sort of energy come back to Philadelphia.

When will The Linc become a cauldron of emotion that is a postseason game? When will Citizens Bank Park rediscover its soul? When will the Wells Fargo Center shake with passion?

Philadelphia sports fans put on a great display recently when the NFL Draft was held on the Parkway and from coast to coast, people couldn’t stop talking about what a great event it was for the city and its fans.

But to sort of quote Iverson, “we’re taking about a draft, not a game, not a game, a draft.”

Nope, it was nothing compared to what is taking place in Nashville, or even Pittsburgh and in the great northwest with Golden State or Cleveland.

It’s the show around the show that is so sorely missed.

You can paint your face so many colors for a regular season game or have the biggest tailgate you’ve ever imagined or bug the most expensive seats in the arena for an entire regular season – but none of it compares to the sheer energy of getting close to the championship, nothing compares to the energy of a city focused on a post-season run.

Just seeing one catfish on the ice, and you realize Philly hasn’t had that much fun since … just way too long ago.