In NHL, It's Finally Time to Pay Attention

Elliott SmithCorrespondent IApril 15, 2009

I can't say I'm the world's biggest hockey fan—I got into it mainly through playing NHL '93 on the Sega Genesis—but I try my best to keep up with the sport, despite its terrible TV contracts (reduced to the cable hinterlands of the Versus network), lack of newspaper coverage (a paragraph at best in the local paper), and general status as our country's No. 4 sport.

When you factor in that slogging through the interminable regular season seems more like a chore than a reward, it's no surprise that only the biggest die-hards hang onto every point.

But now that the playoffs have begun, it's another story. No sport has a better postseason than the NHL, featuring series filled with the kind of drama, upsets, intensity, and action that other leagues could only dream of.

In the NBA, a No. 8 seed has only toppled a No. 1 seed twice. In hockey, it seems like it happens every year, and if you told me that this year's No. 8's (Montreal and Anaheim) will wind up winning their first-round series, I won't be surprised.

Another amazing aspect of the NHL playoffs is the overtime factor, especially during sudden-death showdowns.

One of my favorite sports memories of all time is watching the four-OT Penguins-Capitals marathon in 1996. Every shift and every pass meant so much, it was impossible to turn away from the game, even though it was 1 a.m. You just don't get that kind of drama in other sports.

As far as this year's playoffs go, I know enough to get by: Detroit and San Jose are good, Pittsburgh is streaking, Chicago is a dark-horse, and New Jersey continues to get no respect.

But none of that matters, because a week from now, we could have three or four of the lower seeds in the next round.

Selfishly, I'm rooting for the Devils, since they are my team, and the Canucks, due to their proximity. I'd love to see them meet in the Stanley Cup finals, but I have no idea of how things are going to go, and that's why I'm watching.

The NHL may not get many things right, but the playoffs make up for all the other flaws. Get ready for an exciting two months.

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