7 Reasons the Hunt for the Stanley Cup Is More Exciting Than March Madness
March Madness and the NCAA tournament mean three weeks of nonstop excitement for college basketball fans.
For those devoted to the sport, it means dissecting matchups between teams that appear to have little in common. When a top seed from a power conference takes on a small school that happened to win its conference tournament, a blowout is the likely result.
College basketball fans don't care. Little things like the point spread and brackets are foremost on their minds.
The Stanley Cup playoffs don't have the hype factor of March Madness. But the Stanley Cup playoffs offer the finest two months in sports.
The greatest hockey players in the world compete at the highest level and don't let up.
Here are seven reasons the Stanley Cup playoffs are more exciting than March Madness.
In the NCAA tournament, it's a one-and-done competition.
You win the first game and you advance; you lose the first game and you go home.
That's how it proceeds for the six rounds the champion needs to win to earn the title.
In the NHL, it's a best-of-seven series. You can win the first two games of the series at home and you've won nothing.
When you go on the road for the third and fourth game, you must raise your game another level or the trailing team may seize momentum.
You don't advance without winning four games. You can't depend on a hot second half of shooting to advance. You need to win four games.
That's a much truer test.
A sudden-death overtime goal in the Stanley Cup playoffs is the best moment in sports.
When the game goes to overtime, both teams head back to the locker room to catch their breath and prepare. After that, it's one goal to decide who wins the game and, perhaps, the series.
Scoring a goal does not often come easily. It could come in the second, third or fourth overtime.
It could also come in the first minute.
Teams have to be prepared, and they also need a little puck luck.
The drama of March Madness is undeniable and exciting. The drama of a Stanley Cup overtime goal can be life-changing.
There is little doubt that the teams that play in the NCAA tournament are involved in an exciting competition with a national championship at stake.
Scouting reports are made, a game plan is formed, the teams play hard for 40 minutes and then it is over.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, it is not quite that simple. The matchups are made and then the teams live, breathe and eat competition against that team for up to two weeks at a time.
This is not about winning or losing. This is about doing everything possible to survive the gauntlet that is a best-of-seven playoff series.
There's a level of passion that takes over in a Stanley Cup playoff series that may not be equaled anywhere else in sports.
Perhaps the Super Bowl sees the same level of hatred for the opponent, but not the NCAA tournament.
It just doesn't exist in college basketball the same way it does in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Response to Heartbreak
In the NCAA tournament, your opponent may hit a game-winning shot in the final seconds, and you are forced to live with it.
That shot may eliminate you from the tournament, meaning your team is done.
In the NHL, your team can have a one-goal lead in the final seconds, and then your opponent pulls the goaltender and scores to tie up the game and send it to overtime.
In that extra session, your team has a scoring opportunity and the opposing goalie makes a remarkable stick save.
Your opponent takes the puck up-ice and a soft toss from the blue line gets deflected in for the game-winning goal. Your opponent celebrates and you are heartbroken.
Despite the enormity of the loss, you have no time to feel sorry for yourself. You have to come back the next game and redouble your effort.
If you take the "woe is me" attitude, you are doomed to defeat again.
But hockey players respond. They call it character, a factor that is abundant during the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Take a good look at most college basketball coaches after losing an NCAA tournament game.
There's sadness and regret, and it may last for an hour or two, or perhaps a day.
But shortly after a team's season ends, that college coach is out on the road and recruiting his next class.
It's nice to win and it hurts to lose, but it's business as usual shortly thereafter.
Then look at the coach of a team that loses in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Take Don Cherry, for example. The bombastic Hockey Night in Canada analyst was the head coach of the tough-as-nails Lunch Pail A.C. Boston Bruins in the late 1970s.
The Bruins had a great team in those days, but great was not good enough when their competition was the Montreal Canadiens from that era. Scotty Bowman's Canadiens were probably the greatest team in the sport's history.
But in 1979, the Bruins led the Canadiens 4-3 in the closing moments of the seventh game of their semifinal playoff series. A "too many men on the ice" penalty led to a tying goal by Guy Lafleur, and Yvon Lambert eventually won it in overtime for the Habs.
Cherry never coached another game for the Bruins. Despite what you may see on television, neither he nor Bruins fans ever got over the pain of that defeat.
The Handshake Line
The handshake line at the end of a Stanley Cup playoff series is a beautiful ritual, and there is nothing else like it in sports. Members of both teams congratulate and commiserate with each other after what may have been a brutal and vicious playoff series.
In college basketball, the coaches usually shake hands and the players exchange high fives.
However, it's a lot of milling about without any structure and very little meaning.
There's nothing like hockey during the Stanley Cup playoffs, and those that produce it from a television point of view know it.
There are commercials in playoff games. The game will be stopped at whistles three times per period for a two- or three-minute commercial break.
Those commercial breaks come at the right time. They fit the game without interfering with it.
Now watch an NCAA tournament game. In addition to TV timeouts every four minutes, watch how many times the producers go to a commercial in the final three minutes when coaches call their own timeouts.
It's beyond maddening. It's often sickening.
In hockey, they know how to let it flow.