Playoff Hockey: Nothing Else Matters Right Now

Steve PrudenteCorrespondent IMay 5, 2009

DETROIT - MAY 03:  Todd Marchant #22 of the Anaheim Ducks celebrates his game winning goal in the third overtime with Rob Niedermayer #44 to beat the Detroit Red Wings 4-3 in Game Two of the Western Conference Semifinals of the 2009 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 3, 2009 at Joe Louis Arena in Detroit, Michigan.  (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images)

My team has long been eliminated from the NHL Playoffs, and my favorite baseball team is playing tonight.

Yet here I sit, not watching the baseball game but instead tuned in to watch two hockey teams I don't normally care about wage war against each other.

Why? It's the playoffs. Not just any playoffs, but the hockey playoffs.

I've long believed that they are in fact the best playoffs in all of professional sports. There simply is nothing like them.

The NBA playoffs are simply an afterthought in playoff discussions. Rarely is there a matchup that will stick out in my mind as one that I have to watch, and any hockey series (including a sweep) will still be more interesting.

The NFL playoffs are somewhat more compelling, and culminate in the biggest sporting spectacle in the world, the Super Bowl. However, the other three rounds are generally tame compared to any hockey playoff series.

I would rank the MLB playoffs a distant second. There is definitely nothing like October baseball, but it still doesn't hold a candle to the Stanley Cup playoffs.

If you want the most telltale sign of why the hockey playoffs are so very epic and intense, you need look no further than the reward for winning them: Lord Stanley's Cup.

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It's the oldest trophy in professional sports, and that's not even the reason why it's the best. The tradition of the captain taking a triumphant lap while hoisting it over his head is a lasting image that no one ever forgets. You get your name engraved on it if you win.

Perhaps the best tradition of all is that there is only one Stanley Cup. The Lombardi Trophy, Commissioner's Trophy, and O'Brien Trophy are all re-created every year, but not the Cup. When you win it, you really win it. No one else in the world has one when it's in your possession.

That's pretty powerful stuff. The motivation to win it drives hockey players to do incredible things just to win even one game. And that, in turn, motivates fans like me to do similar things.

The hockey playoffs are epic for the players, but also for the fans who watch them. During the months of April and May and the first two weeks in June, my television is dominated by hockey even more than it is during the regular season.

This leads some to ask why, especially when my team is out of it. They just don't understand.

For most of yesterday afternoon, I was on the edge of my seat as I watched the Ducks and Red Wings battle into triple overtime before the game was decided. I had things to do, but I didn't care. I wanted to see how the game ended.

Last year, I watched every second of the Sharks and Stars quadruple-overtime affair, knowing full well I had to be at work the next morning. I still didn't care. There's a feeling of accomplishment when you stay up until 3:30 a.m. to see a game-winning goal.

My favorite example dates back to the 2000 playoffs. Yes, you know the game I'm thinking of. In Game Four of the Eastern Conference semifinals, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh played more than halfway through a fifth overtime before the game was decided.

At the time, I was still in high school. My school day began at 7:30 a.m. But as the cross-state rivals played into the early hours of the morning, that was the farthest thing from my mind.

You hear the stories about the players trying to keep themselves hydrated and energized to continue playing effectively, but what about the fans that are equally as tired from gluing their eyes to a game for so many hours? I remember struggling to keep my eyes open during the intermission, so much that I had to stand up and walk around the house just to keep myself awake.

Some call me crazy for showing such dedication to a sporting event. Again, I don't care. If I ever got thrown in jail, I think I'd be alright as long as I could watch playoff hockey, if only for five minutes a day.

I confess that my obsession for hockey might be just a little unhealthy. But like I said before, I don't care.

I don't care that Pittsburgh took out my Flyers in the first round. Part of me wants to see them win tonight to even up their series with Washington, just to increase the chance that the series will go seven games.

I don't care that Mine That Bird won the Kentucky Derby at 50-to-1 odds. I was watching the first Pittsburgh/Washington contest and looking forward to game two of the Chicago/Vancouver series.

I don't care that there is a swine flu scare sweeping the nation. I don't even know what channel the news is on right now, because the hockey playoffs are on.

All is right in my world right now because of playoff hockey. Nothing else matters.

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