Hockey junkies return to the NHL for their fix

There we stood, days before the lockout ended. Feet entrenched in the dirt, scowl heavier than the ball and chain attached to our ankles.

We were in hockey jail, you see. Jeremy Jacobs was the warden, Gary Bettman the judge, and Donald Fehr the jury. But there would be no executioner for us. No, we couldn't be so lucky. Instead, we were sentenced to what felt like a lifetime without hockey.

Many of us swore that if we were ever released from this hell that we'd never, ever return. We'd rehabilitate ourselves. We'd get better.

Then a funny thing happened. Just as the window of opportunity shrunk and hope dwindled, we were suddenly set free. All of a sudden, the lockout was over. The majority of us rejoiced immediately, for we had finally been rewarded for putting in our time.

Some of us remained angry, steadfast to some greater good as if there was a difference to be made. Stay away, we demanded, don't give those buffoons the satisfaction of knowing how desperately we missed their presence.

Then as the days grew shorter until they finally dropped the puck, our anger waned. Frustration surrounding the greed of the lockout fizzled with expectations of a new season, and aspirations of Lord Stanley.

Then, finally, the day had arrived. For the first time since May, there was a Saturday dedicated not to football, not to basketball, but to hockey. We watched 13 games in all, kicked off by a magical ceremony celebrating the Kings improbable championship run last Spring.

We watched, and our numbers were as big as ever. According to NBC Sports' public relations department via Twitter, the Blackhawks-Kings and Flyers-Penguins contests drew a 2.0 overnight rating. That's the best overnight rating for a regular season game other than the Winter Classic since 2002.

All around the country, the local markets were hockey-obsessed. Pittsburgh drew a 19.4, an all-time high for an NHL on NBC broadcast. Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia weren't far behind. We were doing it all over again.

All around the country, we bought tickets, paid for parking and concessions as if nothing ever happened. We saw rivalries renewed. We saw goals, and plenty of them. We saw saves. Man, did we see saves:

The feeling was new again. Even though some told us it was wrong, it was the rush that had us running back for more.

Our transgressions will most likely catch up to us as they have in the past. But for now, we don't care. It turns out there's no lesson to be learned from this. There's no way around it. We're addicted to the thrill, and if we're committing the same "mistakes" that helped get us here in the first place, then so be it. Sometimes it's just good to be free.

We'll probably see each other again in eight years, in the same cell block we just spent the last four months. But for now, there's a lot of hockey to watch.

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