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What Game Should I Watch?

Curtis Lazar #42 of the New Jersey Devils and Martin Pospisil #76 of the Calgary Flames fight while a linesman reacts
Sarah Stier/Getty Images

It's an unfortunate truth of a hockey blogger's life that she can only really watch one game at a time. Yes, she can flip channels, and yes, she can do a laptop/TV split screen, but because she wants to absorb the entirety of a game's narrative, and not just feel the trunk of the elephant, it's best to process it complete and uninterrupted.

My hockey diet is in many ways shaped by the outside world. (I disproportionately watch the last two-thirds of Seattle and Vancouver weeknight home games, for example, thanks to the time difference.) But there are nights, also, that I set aside—where hockey and that precious, nebulous concept of "self-care" get intertwined. I'll pick a game early in the day to look forward to, cook during pregame, eat during the first period, read a book at intermissions, and take some notes here and there in case they prove useful in the morning. From Monday to Thursday, at least one night of this per week has proven to be good for my soul. (And when the season's over, baseball is there to take its place.)

The challenge: The NHL can schedule upwards of a dozen games on a given night. How does a chef/blogger/stressed-out girl decide which to focus on? Sometimes I choose wrong and am forced to parachute in on a 4-4 third period, feeling like I've Quantum Leaped into another person's life. Some might say I am a borderline obsessive planner (some might not even say "borderline"), and I take this decision very seriously. But the way my brain processes and analyzes the schedule shifts with the seasons, like so:

  • October: Pick the game with the best vibes, meaning the two teams that have given me the best gut feeling as I've researched the season preview, because there's nothing tangible to go on yet.
  • The Holidays: Records start to matter, and wins are king. I want the squads that have enjoyed hot starts, especially surprising ones, and I want the best players butting up against each other.
  • The Depths of Winter: This is a good time to eliminate the league's dregs from my mind, but I can begin to set aside the most dominant teams, too, because I know they'll be there later on. Sorry, Dallas; I'll think about you in the spring. This is when my love for scrappy little groups trying desperately to fix their flaws really takes hold. Give me the 10th-best team in a conference against the seventh-best.
  • Early March: ???????????
  • The Last Few Weeks: This is easy: Any game between teams that have neither clinched nor been eliminated.

You'll notice that we are in early March right now, and also that I am confused. We are approaching what one might call The Great Narrowing. Here is what I mean by that. The Athletic's projection system currently gives 10 teams a 100 percent shot at making the playoffs; while jockeying for seeding has some significance, the Boston Bruins are among those who will be quick to tell you that it doesn't really matter who you play. For these 10 teams, and the two more with a greater-than-90-percent chance, the rest of the regular season is primarily about staying healthy. On the flip side, The Athletic gives 13 teams less than a 1-in-8 chance of extending their seasons. Some of those maintain higher hopes than others, but still, that's a huge chunk of the league that's either already disappeared or is hanging on for dear life. A small middle ground remains of seven teams that are neither comfortably in nor planning their vacations.

But in early March there still remains a gap between these analytics and the emotional promise of 20 more games—nearly an entire quarter of a season. The Hurricanes, could, maybe, suffer a flailing, embarrassing collapse. The Blues, perhaps, might show everyone the middle finger as they overtake a wild card slot. It is too late in the year for unabashed optimism, yet too early to shut the door. Thus, as I look at a schedule like Thursday's, I become paralyzed with indecision. Which of these games is "the best game?" Let's take a brief journey into my mind. I promise I'll let you out at the end.

Screenshot of NHL schedule for Thursday with annotations. Maple Leafs vs. Bruins - "Too good?" Flyers - "Nah" - vs Panthers - "Sick of them." Canadiens crossed out vs. Hurricanes. Blues vs. Devils - "Nasty". Blue Jackets crossed out vs. Oilers. Capitals vs. Penguins - "dead yet?"
Screenshot of NHL schedule for Thursday with annotations. Flames - "still fighting" vs Lightning. Sabres crossed out vs. Predators. Coyotes - "R.I.P." vs. Wild. Canucks vs. Golden Knights - "collapse???". Senators crossed out vs. Kings. Sharks crossed out vs. Islanders.

The Canadiens, Blue Jackets, Senators, Sabres, Coyotes, and Sharks are dead to me. Leafs vs. Bruins is a battle of 100-percenters, which means the stakes are too low. The Flyers and the Panthers both stress me out. The Blues and the Devils both bum me out. Capitals vs. Penguins is still a brand-name rivalry, but it might feel too much like that 3-on-3 old-timer basketball league for my taste. I can't help but stay intrigued by the Flames, especially as they fight an aging contender like the Lightning, but they still face a steep climb to the playoffs. Vancouver and Vegas, meanwhile, look solidly postseason-bound, but they're also both freaking me out in a fun, unpredictable kind of way.

After much deliberation, I have decided that my Game Of The Night is Nucks-Knights. If nothing else, it's a relief that I don't have to watch the Red Wings get their doors blown off again.

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