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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

NHL Playoffs ... Time Well Spent

One of the primary purposes of this blog is to bring the joy of sports to folks who do not spend every waking moment watching SportsCenter and listening to the B.S. Report.  In other words, to the casual fan.  So, in many ways, I am my own target audience for this post.

I am, by no means, a die-hard hockey fan.  I am a bit embarrassed to admit this, but I cannot name a player from every playoff team.  In fact, I can really only name the biggest stars in the NHL.  That being said, I believe that the NHL playoffs are perhaps the best playoffs in all of sports.  Here are the three reasons.

1.  Upsets.  Everyone loves March Madness because of the upsets.  But, that's a one and done event.  Anything can happen on a given night.  Same thing with the NFL.  The NBA and the MLB both have long series in each round.  In baseball, until this season, only four teams make the playoffs in each league.  So, there really is no such thing as a major upset because only the top teams are in the playoffs at all.  And, the lengthy series in the early rounds of the NBA playoffs have largely eliminated big upsets.  Not so in the NHL.  Two years ago, the 7th seeded Flyers met the 8th seeded Canadiens in the Eastern Conference finals.  In 2006, the 8th seeded Oilers came within one win of the championship.  This year, the Vegas odds have the 4th seeded Penguins as the favorite to make it to the finals.  This makes the NHL playoffs different than any other sport.

2.  Sudden death overtime.  Because of the nature of the game, the NHL has a large number of their games going into overtime.  In the NHL, overtime is sudden death.  And, in the playoffs, you just keep playing until someone scores.  If you are a fan of the concept of "sport," this is mesmerizing format.  Some games end quickly on a breakaway goal.  Some games grind on until the wee hours of the morning before someone finally finds the back of the net.  Either way, the drama is incredible.

(Getty images)
3.  Lord Stanley's Cup.  At the end of the NHL playoff journey, the winner takes home Lord Stanley's Cup.  The Stanley Cup is without a doubt the most prestigious trophy in all of sports.  Even as a casual fan, that fact is obvious to me.  If you have ever seen a potentially clinching Stanley Cup finals game then you do not need to read any farther.  You already know what I mean.  Only people who have won the Cup are permitted to touch it.  Even the NHL officials who bring the Cup to the building on a night when it may be awarded wear gloves when they take it out of the case.  When players win the Cup, they touch and hold it with incredible reverence.  Burly, bearded men weep when they get their chance to finally hold the Cup.  Everyone who has ever won the Cup has their name engraved on it.  And everyone on the winning team gets to take it home for a day.  There are stories of the Cup being taken to Triple Crown races and of babies being baptized in the Cup.  If you do not watch any other event in sports this year, please watch the presentation of the Stanley Cup.  And, you will find this event far more meaningful if you invested some time in the quest for the Cup known as the NHL playoffs.

Conclusion.  I acknowledge that no one with a real life had time to watch every single NHL playoff game.  There are a lot of them.  And they are played on weeknights.  If you are going to tune into one series in the first round, I would recommend the Pittsburgh Penguins vs. the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Pens and Flyers had fearsome games throughout the regular season.  The final regular season game included a screaming match between the two coaching staffs.  Also, Pennsylvanians take their sports far more seriously and far more personally than rational people really should.  This is reflected in the way the games are played.  But, most importantly, the Penguins have two of the most exciting players in the game in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Because of this, many experts are favoring the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup.

(Credit to Patrick O'Brien for contributing to this post)