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Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos, center, celebrates his goal against the New York Rangers with Jan Rutta, right and Tampa Bay Lightning left wing Ondrej Palat, left, during the second period in Game 6 of the NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoffs Eastern Conference finals, on June 11.The Associated Press

You know what this year’s hockey playoffs have been great for? Gambling ads.

We didn’t realize until now how fun it is to marry every fan’s two great passions – watching sports and setting your money on fire.

Every sports league has taken the dip into gambling, but this spring, the NHL has gone in eyes closed and feet first. If you’d muted any Canadian hockey broadcast over the past two months, it would be possible to believe the game is an ad on the gambling show, not the other way around.

What’s your favourite gambling miniseries?

I like sinister Wayne Gretzky for BetMGM. Gretzky, so photoshopped he looks illustrated, staring malevolently at you while apparently standing on top of a dry-ice machine or inside a volcano. It’s the look that says, “Follow me into the darkness, amigo. And bring your mom’s credit card.”

“With every tap …” Gretzky says in one of these ads, mashing at his phone, “… a new legend is born.”

Wayne scored nearly 2,000 points, but it took him 20 years. You could lose more than $2,000 in just one evening. So who’s the real legend?

I’m also partial to that one they do in-game at the Scotiabank Arena about responsible gambling (which sounds a bit like vegetarian smoking or skills-building alcoholism).

What’s your gambling secret, one guy asks the responsible gambler? “Well, I got this amazing new slow money shredder. It only shreds a bit of your money at a time, no matter how much cash you stuff into it at once. It’s the future of money disposal.”

I’m paraphrasing, but I believe my version is better.

The gambling ads have been amazing and it’s hard to say how we’ll fill the time once they’re gone. (Ed. note: Gambling, probably.)

You know what this year’s hockey playoffs haven’t been so great for? Hockey.

The hockey has been okay. But the longer this goes on, the less compelling it’s become.

What’s the best series so far? The neutral observer would probably say Toronto-Tampa Bay. A high skill level plus close games plus back-and-forth momentum plus the exquisite joy/pain of watching the Leafs turn victory into another learning opportunity.

What have they learned this time? That when you land on your face just once in Boston or Long Island, that’s it for you. But in Toronto, as long as you keep failing the final exam, they can’t kick you out of school.

It’s been nearly a hundred years and a fluke of scheduling since the Leafs last won three series in a single playoffs. Tampa’s done that three times in the past three seasons. Think about that when you’re pairing the words “iconic” and “franchise” within Toronto city limits.

Many of the hoped-for showdowns happened, which is good. Most of them were duds, which is less so.

Edmonton ran Calgary over. Colorado ran Edmonton over. Tampa ran Florida over, then put it in reverse and did that again four or five more times.

The team that provided the most entertainment value over all was the New York Rangers.

Last year, the Rangers didn’t make the playoffs. This year, they were two wins from the final. As Canadians, we are taught that no hockey team can make good until it has failed miserably for three, five, even 10 years in a row. Then, if you want to be really thorough, you should start all over again. Abstinence is good for the Canadian hockey soul.

In the United States, where fans don’t pay to watch perennial failures, that rule doesn’t apply. The lesson to the savvy shopper – buy Canadian, but root American.

The Rangers got the advantage of a Tampa Bay holiday after their series in Florida. The “taste of summer,” as they call it in the NHL.

So for two games, Tampa looked like it was playing in board shorts and flip-flops. But after getting knocked around a bit, the Lightning were able to dig up their winter clothes.

In this run, the Lightning faced the first-, fourth- and eighth-best teams in the NHL, by record. They went up against this year’s top goal scorer (Auston Matthews) and the best goalie (Igor Shesterkin). They lost their own best player (Brayden Point) to injury in the first round.

Tampa should have lost – almost did a couple of times – but here it is again.

This is what Canadians can’t accept about their own teams, because they are looking at them from an inch away. It’s not about individual talents or moving this marginally better guy from the third line to the first or even luck. It’s about constructing a belief system. Teams that believe they will win do. Teams that hope they will win usually don’t. You can see the difference every May into June.

So now it’s the team you always knew would be there (Tampa) against the team you thought was too obvious a choice to make it (Colorado).

After steam-rolling Edmonton, Colorado’s been cooling its heels since June 6. The finals start on Wednesday. That’s a week and a half of trying to keep it loose.

If Tampa had a taste of summer after sweeping the Panthers, the Avalanche will have had a whole meal of it. At least there’s no beach culture in Denver.

Every playoffs, the average NHL fan worries that people who don’t follow hockey will ignore it again. It’s one of the socially acceptable ways we express our irritation with Americans. They are missing something beautiful in their own midst.

Once again, they own the Stanley Cup final. It’s not exactly a matchup that rings through the ages. It will start in ratings competition against an NBA Finals that feels like it’s going seven games. With no local team, Canadians are once again left rooting for their frenemies. Those things suggest relatively few people will be watching. Again.

But there is still a chance to create a classic here – the old immovable object against the new irresistible force. If Tampa wins, it is a dynasty on par with Gretzky’s Oilers and Bossy’s Islanders. If Colorado wins, it’s killed a king. It’s a good story either way.

But that’s if this final meets a standard that has rarely been matched this postseason. So while we can hope it goes that way, I wouldn’t bet on it.

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