On Monday night the Stanley Cup Playoffs returned to Winnipeg for the first time since 1996. It might as well have been a federal holiday up there. Schools, businesses, and the general public all organized their day around the long-awaited return of the greatest tournament in sports. The fact that the Winnipeg Jets trailed 2-0 in the series before the first game at MTS Centre did little to diminish the excitement and fanfare leading up to the game.
As I watched the build-up to puck drop from 1,300 miles south, it brought memories from last year's Dallas Stars postseason back to the surface. When it was American Airlines Center that was abuzz thanks to a return to the playoffs after a lengthy absence.
There are no shortage of parallels between the two events. Both the Stars and the Jets had to fight tooth and nail down the stretch to earn the final Wild Card spot. Both series came against the Anaheim Ducks. Each year the Ducks had won their division and finished first in the West. Dallas and Winnipeg were both huge underdogs, but played well enough late in the season to make them a sleeper pick to give the Ducks a tough series. And as pointed out above, both series were 2-0 favoring Anaheim before the scenery shift from Southern California. Despite a couple of close games that could have gone either way, both years.
Still, the biggest similarity was the anticipation for what home playoff hockey would feel like once again. For Dallas, it wasn't the almost two-decade wait that Winnipeg endured. But for those who lived through the six years between Stars playoff games, it might as well have been. Like the Jets this year, the Stars clinched a playoff spot in the second to last game of the season, and had about one week to prepare for the playoff homecoming.
In the hours leading up to Game 3 last year, I remember thinking about the atmosphere I expected, and predicting what it would look, sound, and feel like. I had high expectations. Then I remember the scene as the Stars came out of the tunnel just before opening faceoff. I remember the sea of 19,000 white towels turning the AAC into a giant-sized snow-globe. Any lofty expectations for that night were met and quickly exceeded. It probably didn't hurt that it was all punctuated by a 3-0 Stars win to get back into the series.
While watching a similar scene play out through my television on Monday night, I was taken back to that night. It's fitting timing. Tuesday marks the one-year anniversary of the return of the Stanley Cup Playoffs to Texas.
Another lasting memory I have from a year ago is how the Stars players talked about the atmosphere. Professional athletes, who play all season in the most iconic arenas and cities to ever host hockey games, were practically speechless at what it was like to play a home playoff game in Dallas.
That part especially stood out for me. Both back then, as well as over the last couple of days. Seeing clubs like Winnipeg and Calgary reintroduce themselves and their fans to playoff hockey after so many years takes us all back to last year. You, me, but most importantly, the team.
Players often say that the hardest part of not making the playoffs is having to watch them. Seeing your opponents experience what you cannot. Given the way this season played out, and the frustration surrounding it, there is not much need for extra motivation in Dallas. Nonetheless, watching events like Monday night in Winnipeg are a reminder of what was, and what could have been this year. However, they also are a reminder of what can be again.
Last year whet the appetite for playoff hockey in Dallas. Anyone who was there, watching, or associated with the team remembers exactly what it felt like. There are a lot of Stars players who are experiencing the low of missing the playoffs for the first time after knowing the high of being there. They likely all had an eye on MTS Centre on Monday. Remembering. Wanting to do it again.
With that fresh in their minds, they'll spend the next 12 months doing everything they can to make sure that next year, it's someone else watching Dallas and wishing that was them.
Josh Bogorad is the Pre-Game, Post-Game, and Intermission host for Stars television broadcasts. He can be seen 30 minutes before face-off on ‘Stars Live’ and immediately after games all season long on Fox Sports Southwest. Follow him on Twitter at @JoshBogorad.