I’ll begin by saying that I don’t consider myself a normal kid, but I believe that the NHL offers the best playoffs in professional sports. Before you all start screaming that March Madness is far and away better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs, hold on. I said best playoffs in any professional sport. Before you start throwing the kitchen sink around again, let me say that I watch the playoffs in every sport out there and trust me, I love them all.
Many try and argue that it’s hard to follow the puck. First thing you should do is make an appointment with an optometrist and get your eyes checked out. Second, check out a game in HD. If you still can’t find the puck, you might want to think twice about driving to pick up that Keystone from Wayne’s later.
There are a multitude of reasons why once you can find the black puck gliding over the white ice, you’ll see that hockey provides the most entertaining playoffs around. First, just take a look at the teams that win series and how close the games are. These are the best teams in the league and the disparity between the top seed and the eight seed is so small that upsets happen more often than in any other sport.
Unless your team is the favorite, everyone loves an underdog (watch Rudy and tell me otherwise). The reason March Madness is so exciting is the possibility of a tiny school, like Vermont or Bucknell, sending a team like Syracuse or Kansas back home to classrooms with papers and exams. Like March Madness, upsets are commonplace in the NHL. In the 2006 playoffs, the Edmonton Oilers, the eighth seed, beat the Anaheim Ducks, the sixth seed, in the Western Conference Semi-Finals. The unlikely Oilers continued their incredibly run, taking the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Carolina Hurricanes to a decisive Game 7.
The intensity in hockey is so high that other sports just can’t compete. While many may claim that the NFL Playoffs are just as, if not more intense, take a look at the opening minutes of the first period and then the final minutes of the last, especially when one team is down a goal. I guarantee that the intensity is not higher on any other playing surface in America. The hits that guys like Zdeno Chara (6’9″, 250 lbs on skates) throw around are staggering. Watch Sean Avery “accidentally” run over a goalie and then check out the ensuing beating coming from a guy like Donald Brashear, a 6’3″, 240 lb enforcer who was trained in boxing by Joe Frazier. Most of these guys aren’t playing for millions of dollars a season so you know that they are playing with all of their hearts.
Just as the intensity adds to the entertainment, the excitement of sudden death overtime in hockey is unparalleled. While the NFL also has sudden death overtime, there’s a certain aspect of fairness that’s lost in one team getting the ball first. Yes, I am aware that there is a coin toss. Just think back to the 1999 Stanley Cup Playoffs when Brett Hull scored in the third overtime to hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup. That’s almost two games worth of playing a sport which is so tiring that you can barely catch your breath after a 45 second shift. Another example, which being a Devils fan, I will never forget, is when Jason Arnott scored in the second overtime to kiss the cup as the Devils beat the defending champion Dallas Stars. Those are two games in which for every shot on goal, you jumped in your seat wondering if the puck somehow slid through to the back of the net. Nothing can beat that suspense.
Returning to the issue of fairness, the NHL reseeds teams after each round. This may seem like a small aspect of the playoffs but it’s more important than you would think. Take this year’s NBA playoffs as an example. Say, for instance, Cleveland (1) beats Detroit (8), then Atlanta (4) beats Miami (5), Orlando (3) beats Philadelphia (6), and Chicago (7) beats Boston (2). Because the NBA uses a bracket system, and does not reseed after each round, Orlando (3) would play Chicago (7) and Cleveland (1) would have to play Atlanta (4). Chicago was a .500 team this year, while Atlanta was 12 games over .500. That’s an enormous difference in the quality of team Cleveland has to play. By contrast, in the NHL this year it seems as if Anaheim (8) might pull off the upset over top-seeded San Jose, while Detroit (2) will most likely move on to the Quarterfinals. Because of reseeding, Detroit would play Anaheim no matter who else wins the other series. This is without a doubt, the best set-up of any playoff system.
Finally, there is no trophy more desired in all sports than the Stanley Cup. Dating back to 1893, grown men have been kissing “The Holy Grail” and sipping $750 bottles of Krug from the sliver cup. Once you’ve won a Cup, you’re name is engraved on the oldest trophy in professional sports, whether it’s misspelled or not. Sporting two month old beards, stitches on their eyes, and missing a couple teeth, the Stanley Cup Champions have the honor of winning the most coveted trophy in sports after pouring their hearts out in the most exciting playoffs in America.