5 Reasons Fans of Other Sports Must Watch the NHL Playoffs
Few things in sports are better than playoff hockey.
If you are a die-hard fan, you don't need to be convinced of that. If you're a casual viewer or simply looking for something to watch on a night when there are no NBA playoff games, search no more.
The NHL postseason provides everything you need in a sporting event, showcasing highlight reel goals and incredible saves, along with great drama and sheer determination from the players on the ice.
As the Stanley Cup Final continues to inch closer, those qualities will only become more evident.
Here are five reasons why you must watch the remainder of the NHL playoffs, whether you love the sport or not.
What do you love about the NHL playoffs? Let us know in the comment section below.
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Joel Ward and the Capitals celebrate their Game 7 victory over the Bruins in the opening round. Brian Snyder/Reuters
Is there anything better than Game 7?
The New York Rangers and Washington Capitals will treat fans to another winner-takes-all battle this Saturday night, with a berth in the Eastern Conference finals on the line.
One game to determine whether your boyhood dream towards the Stanley Cup continues, or you join the pile of teams who fell by the wayside.
The crowd is electric and the players’ effort level is unmatched, all of them knowing the magnitude of the situation.
Game 7 is where heroes are born. Consequently, it is also where players who make the critical mistake become lighting rods for criticism during the off-season.
Who will be the hero on Saturday? Who will be the goat? Just thinking about it is exciting.
There is only one thing that can enhance the thrill of a seventh and deciding game…
By far the best aspect of the Stanley Cup playoffs is sudden death overtime.
Nothing is more exciting than knowing that if you blink, you could miss the end of the game. In a matter of seconds, what was a chance for one team can turn into a goal at the other end of the ice.
The intensity level increases, as players realize that every shift could bring about the end of the contest.
So if you have to use the bathroom while watching at home, try your very best to hold it.
With 21 games going into overtime so far—16 of which occurring in the first round—fans have been spoiled with a ton of dramatic action this year. Joel Ward, Mikkel Boedker, Marian Gaborik and a host of others have felt the elation of scoring an overtime winner this postseason.
All four mainstream North American professional sports have some form of overtime, but none compare to the excitement level of hockey.
Extra innings in October are a great spectacle to behold, and walk-off hits to decide a playoff game have created some of the greatest moments in sporting history—we’re looking at you, David Freese.
But what happens when the away team has a huge inning that puts the game beyond reach?
The same can be said for basketball, where one team can take over the extra frame in a big hurry, and bring the game to an anti-climactic ending.
Move over to the NFL and the sudden death rule is definitely exciting, but it often leaves fans with the sense that too much of the outcome was determined by the coin toss.
Unless of course you’re Matt Hasselbeck and you had a chance on offense, only to blow it in spectacular fashion.
The NHL has the perfect system to decide games that are deadlocked after 60 minutes. Throw in the fact that you could be glued to the television into the wee hours of the morning watching an epic battle of endurance and determination, and you have one of the more enticing reasons to watch the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Everyone Loves an Underdog
Can the 8th-seeded LA Kings continue their impressive playoff run?
Harry How/Getty Images
The Vancouver Canucks and Pittsburgh Penguins were chosen by many to be the two teams left standing once the puck dropped on the Stanley Cup Final.
They were eliminated in convincing fashion in the opening round.
No problem, the defending champion Boston Bruins were still around—until Joel Ward shocked the 17,565 fans in attendance at TD Garden in Game 7 of their opening round series.
How about Nashville, whom many though were finally poised to make a deep run after years of playoff disappointment?
The Phoenix Coyotes took care of them in the second round .
Instead of the cup favorites, the playoffs feature a group of underdogs who were expected by many to be on the golf course at this time in May.
Aside from the New York Rangers—who came in as the top seed in the conference—not many people had this group of teams in their playoff bracket.
That only makes things all the more exciting, as neutral fans can now jump aboard and support their favorite surprise story.
Is it the LA Kings and their upset of the President’s Trophy winners from Vancouver? How about the Coyotes and their 30-year-old journeyman goaltender Mike Smith?
Or maybe it’s the New Jersey Devils and head coach Peter DeBoer, who got one over on the Florida Panthers after they fired him at the end of last season.
If you prefer, you could hop on the Washington Capitals bandwagon and become enamored by goaltender Braden Holtby. The 22-year-old rookie had only played a handful of games in the NHL before being thrown into the deep end of the postseason.
All he did was out-shine defending Conn Smythe winner Tim Thomas, and is currently going shot-for-shot with Henrik Lundqvist, who many consider the best netminder on the planet. Watching Holtby's parents react to every save in the crowd makes his story even more endearing.
Whichever underdog story you choose to support, you can’t go wrong.
Mike Smith has been one of the standout performers in the playoffs. Ross D. Franklin/AP
Show me a good coach, and I’ll show you a good goaltender.
You build your team from the net out.
The mantras regarding the importance of solid goaltending in the NHL are endless. The reason is simple: they’re true, and in the playoffs they are magnified 10-fold.
On top of that, great performances by the men with the masks can be a joy to watch.
Fans were spoiled in the opening round when Pittsburgh and Philadelphia treated them to 56 goals in six games of barn-burning action.
That was fascinating to watch, unless you are a Penguins fan—and especially if you’re Marc-Andre Fleury.
But epic goaltending battles, just like an incredible pitching duel in baseball, can captivate audiences just as well, often times more so.
With the Western Conference match-up between the LA Kings and Phoenix Coyotes featuring Jonathan Quick and Mike Smith between the pipes, goals will be at a premium.
Quick, a Vezina finalist, heads into the series with an astonishing 1.55 goals against average (GAA), .949 save percentage, along with one shutout in the postseason so far.
His adversary, meanwhile, has led the ‘Yotes to their deepest playoff run in franchise history. Smith has compiled a 1.77 GAA and .948 save percentage to go along with two shutouts of his own.
Doing its best not to be left out of the party, the Eastern Conference will feature legendary netminder Martin Brodeur on one side, and either superstar Henrik Lundqvist or young sensation Braden Holtby.
Regardless of who manages to join the New Jersey Devils by winning on Saturday night, one thing is certain: the goaltending battle will be one of the highlights of the series.
While Brodeur is no longer the goaltender he once was, his experience in big-game situations will certainly be an asset, as he has proven on numerous occasions that he can win when it counts.
In both conferences, the performances in the crease will be one of the major talking points.
Unlike in the Pittsburgh-Philadelphia series, expect it to be for all the right reasons.
Sacrificing the Body
Girardi hits the ice to help out his goaltender.
Once the second season rolls around in the NHL, players’ dedication and effort levels go up a notch.
If you want to hoist Lord Stanley's mug, you have to be willing to throw yourself in front of a piece of frozen rubber that can be traveling in excess of 90-mph.
That hurts no matter how much equipment you’re wearing.
Just ask Dan Girardi of the Rangers, whose body surely resembles an Inter Milan soccer jersey thanks to his league-leading 44 blocked shots so far in the playoffs.
But Girardi will put his body on the line whether it’s the first game of the preseason or Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. That is just the type of player he is.
Not a problem.
Even the Caps' two Alexanders—Ovechkin and Semin—have been seen sprawling down to block shots this postseason (the former more so than the latter).
I promise, that is not a lie. There is statistical evidence.
Despite seeing his ice-time cut down by head coach Dale Hunter, Ovechkin is showing that he is still willing to put his body on the line for the good of the team, a quality that comes to the forefront during the NHL playoffs.
In fact, the Capitals have blocked more shots than anyone else so far in the postseason, recording 293 blocks in 13 games.
Throw in the increased physicality that has seen the average number of hits per game increase from 23.4 in the regular season to 32.5 in the playoffs, and it is clear that players must endure pain to have a chance to sip champagne from the big silver cup.