NEW YORK -- As people crowded around the Stanley Cup to take pictures Wednesday in Times Square, a much larger replica of the revered trophy towered over them.
A 21-foot-tall, 6,600-pound Cup was unveiled with a ceremony to celebrate the start of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs and a partnership between the NHL and NBC Sports that promises expanded coverage of what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman called "the best two months in sports."
"We believe that we are about to see the most exciting, the most well-covered and presented Stanley Cup Playoffs in the history of our game because of our friends at the NBC Sports Group," Bettman said during the ceremony. "Having every game on television nationally in the United States for the first time in the history of our League is unprecedented and it is something that we know will bring our great game to more fans than ever before."
2012 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS
NBC's unprecedented playoff exposureBy Dave Lozo - NHL.com Staff Writer
For the first time in the history of the NHL, the Stanley Cup Playoffs will be broadcast in their entirety nationally. READ MORE ›
The two-story tall version of the Stanley Cup will be on display in Times Square through Friday, and hockey fans will be able to "drink from the Cup." There are several fountains at the base of the Cup that people can drink from, while a total of 120 gallons will be pumped through the structure per minute.
Bettman was joined at the ceremony by a Stanley Cup-winning member of each metropolitan New York team -- Adam Graves of the New York Rangers, Clark Gillies of the New York Islanders and Grant Marshall of the New Jersey Devils.
"I think everyone looks forward to this time of year and the Stanley Cup Playoffs," Graves said. "If there is one trophy in all of sports that is recognizable and has a life of its own, it is the Stanley Cup. For most hockey players around this time of year, you see the sand on the side of the roads and the weather gets a little bit nicer -- it is a signal that the best hockey of the year is just around the corner. Today is certainly a great celebration of that."
Gillies won the Cup four times with the Islanders and remains a revered figure on Long Island for his part in the franchise's dynasty. He said his team tried to handle the grind of a grueling two-month tournament by writing how many wins the team needed to secure on the white board in the team's dressing room.
Someone would put 16 at the top of the board, and after each win the number would be crossed off and the next number placed below it.
"The thing that I think of to this day is the intensity and the level of play that just went to two and three times what it was during the regular season. To keep that up for two months, you really find out who wants to win," Gillies said. "I watch a fair amount of hockey, but the one that I make sure I stay up for is when it could be the final game. I love to see how the players celebrate when they finally get the Cup in their hands. It was always a huge moment for us, whether it was the first, second, third or fourth. The celebration is really what I like to see because it is the cherry on the sundae at the end of the battle."
Graves still works for the Rangers, the team he won the Cup with in 1994. That team delivered a championship the club's fan base had been waiting 54 years for.
The 2012 edition of the Rangers finished in first place in the Eastern Conference, and has drawn more than a few comparisons to the group that Graves was a key part of 18 years ago.
"The excitement level is as high at is has been in a long time," Graves said. "As someone who has been lucky enough to be part of the Rangers organization and still be part of the organization, I'm very proud of the way they play and the humility they play with and the work ethic through the entire team. It is an exciting time, but at the same time there are so many good teams … you have to be ready to play. There is never an easy night.
"One of my greatest memories is taking the train from White Plains down to the parade in New York. I'll never forget that. It was maybe the most memorable time I've had in this sport. It was just enjoying the energy and the celebration of bringing a championship to this city, and everybody was part of it. Not just the guys on the ice -- it was everyone in the building and everyone in the city. I got on the train and the cars were full and it rocking back and forth. To me, that sums up the privilege of being in New York and being part of the Rangers."
Marshall won the Cup twice -- once with Dallas in 1999 and again with the Devils four years later. He works in the New Jersey organization, and proudly wears his Stanley Cup ring with the Devils logo to events like this whenever he can.
"When you shake someone's hand, you sort of turn it over so they see [the ring] and know who you are," he said with a laugh. "People ask if you miss the game, and I think we always miss it to a certain degree, but that is during the regular season. When the playoffs start, you can feel your mind kicking into that gear again. This is what hockey is all about. That's what you miss the most. … It is a lot of fun, and being involved in events like this shows how exciting this time of year is for everyone."
The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs start Wednesday with three games, and the Boston Bruins will begin the defense of their championship Thursday. Gillies was a part of three successful title defenses, and knows more than a little bit about what it takes to repeat -- something that hasn't happened in 14 years.
"I don't know that we really ever talked about it. Once you've been there, you know what sacrifices you have to make," he said. "You know you're going to come out of these games bloodied and beaten, and in a lot of cases the teams that are bleeding the most are the most successful. It is a big demand on players. It is a two-month job, and you've got to be willing and able to pay the price again. It is a huge price to pay, but the reward at the end is well worth it."