By Michael Battista
I love the smell of ice in the morning.
The National Hockey League playoffs started a few weeks ago, and I’ve been enjoying myself immensely so far despite the fact that the New York Rangers failed to make the postseason for the first time since 2010.
I can’t help but be swept up by the teams and stories taking place right now. These stories range from the Vegas Golden Knights’ success in their first-ever season, to left wing Evander Kane stepping up in his first-ever playoff series for the San Jose Sharks after being traded from the Buffalo Sabres earlier this year. Now both of these teams are lined up to face one another in the second round in what should be a must-watch series.
That doesn’t mean the competition isn’t without critics. On my WTSR sports show, Riding the Pine, my co-host Alex Mitchell and I discussed the idea that the NHL Playoffs are too long.
It’s not hard to see why people like Mitchell believe this. The first round started on April 11 this year and will end sometime in June. Last year’s entire playoff process took nearly two months, starting on April 12 and ending on June 11 when the Pittsburgh Penguins defeated the Nashville Predators in six games. Mitchell said he also believes the NBA playoffs, a league that he follows more closely, is also far too long while the MLB postseason only takes a month.
While everyone is entitled to their own points of view, I did start to think extensively about why a best-of-seven series for every round of the NHL playoffs is better for the sport. It’s mainly attributed to the level of talent and competition.
Look at the Philadelphia Flyers. After losing 7-0 in Game One of their first round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins, they beat the defending two-time champions in Game Two, 5-1. That sort of comeback just doesn’t happen in the NBA, especially against a team like the Penguins.
Looking at the NBA, if someone believed that the San Antonio Spurs could beat the defending champion Golden State Warriors by a lopsided score like 121-79 after losing a game, I’d love to meet them. The Washington Capitals, the top team in the Metropolitan Division, lost the first two games of its first round series to the wildcard Columbus Blue Jackets in overtime this year. Not many people could say they saw that coming and that series became must-watch hockey.
Now look at the NHL’s Western conference. On route to being swept, the Los Angeles Kings lost all their games to Vegas by one goal in close games and L.A.’s goaltender Jonathan Quick stopped nearly every single one of the Knights’ shots. The Colorado Avalanche scored four goals against the Nashville Predators in their Game Two loss, 5-4, and found themselves in a three-goal deficit just to nearly come back by scoring two unanswered goals in the third period.
Games like this prove that these teams do have the ability to fight back and push matches farther than they should go. The odds are bad and yes there will still be sweeps or blowouts, but I never think a team is fully out of contention, unlike the NBA.
There’s also a personal note in my reasoning for enjoying these long playoffs.
As I said before, I am a long suffering Rangers fan. Between 2009 and 2015, the Broadway Blueshirts were part of three series that had teams come back from 3-1 deficits to win in Game Seven. The team lost the first time in 2009 to the Capitals, but they returned the favor in 2015 against Alex Ovechkin and his club.
The best, however, was between Games Two and Four, when the Rangers scored two goals compared to the Penguins’ nine in 2014. As a fan, all hope seemed to be lost with the Rangers building me up to inevitable heartbreak once again. But then Game Five was played, center Derick Brassard scored two beautiful goals, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist made 31 saves and the team won, 5-1. Game Six was another win, but only by two goals when it finished, 3-1.
By the time the Rangers had completed the comeback with a 2-1 win in Game Seven, they have already muted center Sidney Crosby and kept him to only one goal in the series. Goaltender Marc-André Fleury allowed 14 goals in seven games and Hank looked like a Swedish god. That series comeback pushed the team deeper into the playoffs and eventually to the 2014 NHL Stanley Cup Finals.
That wouldn’t have happened in Five Games. Playoff hockey is, without a doubt, the best kind of hockey despite its length.
Some better teams may lose because of a Cinderella’s luck. But like the NHL says in its best commercials, that’s “Because It’s the Cup.”