Post #3, Volume #2
Why the NHL Playoffs are Sweet.
Last night I was watching some NHL Playoff action with some friends - particularly the Bruins/Sabres games. In honor of earth day and in belated honor of 4.20, I was mildly intoxicated but worry not for the experience was entirely organic! Watching what turned out to be an amazing game, my mind was wandering around the past several years, attempting to recall a sporting event I'd enjoyed so fervently; for a while I struggled.
About a year ago I went to a rodeo in Ft. Worth Texas. Yes, I was put off by the roping of young cattle and the training of young humans to do said roping but nonetheless I was pretty darn entertained.
I caught a game of gangsta' stickball on Frederick Douglas Boulevard last year - that too was sweet.
Apparently, beyond those two events my mind is devoid of a fonder memory than watching a playoff hockey games. So, with the help of some herbal enhancement, I put together the following list - I call it (enderaingly) "Why the NHL Playoffs are Sweet!"
1. No Shootout: I understand the reasons behind the shootout. NHL barrons will tell you that it increases interest amongst the casual hockey fan and avoids the potentially never-ending drama of a four or five overtime game. Well let me say I am no casual hockey fan and I quite like the drama thank you very much. In the regular season, overtime is only five minutes. Not wanting to give up a goal in that O.T. period and knowing that the season (except after the 82nd game) will continue tomorrow, teams are not so interested in Winning in Overtime. This is especially the case against division rivals. Rather, most teams prefer to seal their fate in the shootout where they are insulated against the mistake of miserable defenseman a la Wade Redden. In the playoffs, teams need to win - there's no settling for an overtime loss. For example, last night the Sabres NEEDED to win. Already down 2-1 in the series and faced with the threat of having to win three straight games, the Sabres went all out in overtime; pinching both defenseman as soon as the puck crossed the redline into the Bruins zone. This strategy makes for a fast, up-and-down game in which fast-breaks are plentiful and outnumbered only be quality scoring chances. Then, when the game is anchored by two top goalies both on top their games, fans are rewarded with exciting offensive hockey, and like last night - amazing reactionary goaltending. NHL playoff overtime games piss on regular season overtime games.
2. Better Announcers: Call me a homer, but Sam Rosen is really a joy to listen to. He adds such an intriguing pace to the game. On odd-man rushes his voice lingers like a skillful russian playmaker, his inflection a direct barometer of the exact degree of pressure the defending team is under at the moment - in essence, his announcing personifies the action and forcefully establishes the suspense in the minds of listeners and the eyes of viewers by vocally supplementing the on-ice action. Sam however is becoming "of age", and there are nights that his broadcasting ability seems to teeter on the age of competence. But, as evidenced by his powerful calling of the Bruins/Sabres game, when it comes down to the playoffs Sam is like the Johan Franzen and his Mighty Wings in that despite constant suggestions of the opposite, he's still got it.
3. The Best Players Play... A Lot.
Tyler Myers is 19, he's 6 foot 8, and he is going to be a stud defenseman. Despite some early season hiccups, he became not only the Sabres most reliable defenseman and not only their most offensively gifted defenseman, but also one of the top defenseman in the league - at age 19. In fact, Myers has progressed so speedily that he is almost playing up to the caliber of the defenseman whom his size and agility enables him to emulate - Zdeno Chara. Last night, the two defenseman wound up matched against one another quite often. In fact, in the process of explaining some of the strategy around the positioning of the players during the 1st overtime to my novice hockey-fan friends, I found myself constantly using "Myers" or "Chara" as examples. I began to wonder how many minutes they were playing. Chara is a horse; known for eating up about 28-30 minutes per night during the regular season and more in the playoffs. But Myers is a rookie, and to keep up to NHL speed for that period of time is grueling for even the most experienced of defensemen, especially the large ones. The final numbers: Myers logged 35 minutes and Chara 37. Make no mistake, this is a lot of minutes. To put it in perspective a basketball game is 48 minutes, much of it is spent standing around. If you figure that a team typically doesn't shoot until the shot clock is 2/3 expired then the game is only 16 minutes. Factor in time on the bench and even lebron is only playing 14-15 minutes a night... WEARING SHOES. In the NHL Playoffs, the best players play and they play a lot.
4. The Best Players Make Clear That They Are The Best Players.
In four games Alex Ovechkin has 8 points. Extrapolated over an entire season and Alex the Great would total 164 points which is unheard of outside of Gretzky's tenure. What is even more amazing about that stat is those 8 points place Ovechkin 3rd in scoring. In 2nd sits his talented centerman, Nik Backstrom, whom I hold to be the most valuable centerman in the league with or without Alex. Without much effort you can guess whose first - If you guessed anyone other than Sidney Crosby then, well, its nice to know there are other Ranger Fans reading this. Crosby has 11 points in 4 games. Watching Alex, and Sid, and Nik (who i truly do believe to be on their level and would fully support the rangers making an offer sheet for) perform thus far has been only minimally about their points, and moreso about their presence. Teams are double and triple teaming the threeseome and in response, the three have simply raised their games. What's more exciting is that the two teams (Pens and Caps) are on a crash course to meet in the Eastern Conference Finals, which brings me to the last reason why the NHL Playoffs are just great.
5. We Don't Have to Watch the Rangers
Use of the word "Rangers" here implies not only the NY team, but also all other NHL disappointments. In the playoffs, both teams show up to play every night. Stupid penalties are cut down, coaches demand accountability from star players, overpaid defenseman still play like all-stars, and young players with the potential to make a difference aren't buried on 4th lines. Instead, fans are treated to intense battles, palyers playing above their skill-levels, the emergence of future stars, poise in net reminiscent of Roy and Brodeur (in his hay day). During the NHL playoffs, if you watch a game you get the classy Wings, the unsolvable Penguins, the forceful Capitals - there's no empty-arena-panthers, no mis-managed Tampa Bay Lightning, no teams from Columbus. Only the best of the best actually make it to the NHL Playoffs - there are no Charlotte Bobcats, and their presence makes for great action appreciated by even the most nay-saying hockey detractors.
My pussy liberal friend joked to me that Oprah was on Obama's shortlist to replace Justice Stevens - I believed him.
People give Tiger Woods a hard time but Marv Albert is still announcing prime time basketball.