Nothing Better than Spring Puck

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There’s no better way to celebrate the NFL Draft’s imminence than an NHL playoff article!

It seems weird that the NHL season should go well into the spring (and almost into the summer).  When you think puck you think sub-zero temperatures, pick-up pond games and maybe even a little Gordon Bombay.  I’m going to try my best to resist making any sort of pun regarding the climbing seasonal temperatures mirroring the on ice action (wish me luck).

No other playoffs can match the NHL.  The NFL playoffs barely deserve a mention, the 2 minute drill is so common now that its aura has washed away almost entirely and every NFL playoff game is expected to have some sort of late game drive to tie or win.  The MLB playoffs, while intense in their own way, don’t have the same pizazz.  Much like the sport of baseball it is more about building tension, about biting your fingernails as your team reaches into its bullpen in hopes of holding on to their incredibly tenuous one run lead and sweating bullets as you see the strike zone graphic fill with balls and strikes.  The NBA playoffs might come the closest but only if there are two great teams and/or great players going head-to-head.  Otherwise the NBA playoffs can be rather unexciting, especially if you don’t have a rooting interest.

The NHL playoffs have three elements that are not found in any of the above sports: constant action, epic momentum swings that usually come from physical play (fights included), and goalies.  Due to the quick pace of hockey there always seems to be something happening.  When a defenseman joins a breakaway it is met with equal parts dread and hope.  Puck redirections can cause seemingly innocuous shots to carom off a player a foot wide of the goal and fly right under the goalie’s glove.  The back-and-forth action can yield huge collisions that can end up changing the complexion of a game even if someone doesn’t get hurt.  In no other sport is there a constant, frenetic action.

The aforementioned physical play is also ramped up in the playoffs.  Now of course the NHL doesn’t have the monopoly on increased physical play in the playoffs, in fact each of the four major sports gain some physicality in the postseason, but hockey’s is different.  Just look at this year’s playoffs, guys purposefully gunning for the other teams’ best players, dribbling their heads off the glass when they are fighting over the puck, and of course the dreaded crashing the net.  When you add all the pushing and shoving and the glove dropping it can seems like hockey is just an entirely different beast from the rest.

And then there are the goalies.  Clearly no other sport has a position quite like the goalie.  A team could be playing the best hockey its played all season and if they run into a hot goalie it won’t matter at all because a goalie can completely shut down the opposition.  Not only that but as the time ticks away and a team has a lead a heightened nervousness sets in as teams shut it down and basically just play defense.  The shots increase and every single puck that is close to the net becomes an instant heart attack.  Only a home run can cause the same euphoria or grief as a late goal in an NHL playoff game.  Not to mention the awesome golden goal OT periods that add full time periods ad infinitum until that goal hits the net.

The NHL playoffs are completely unparalleled.  The only thing that can match the excitement game in and out might be the NCAA basketball tournament but that is altogether different.  And of course the NHL also gets to benefit from the greatest sports trophy ever conceived.  So enjoy the playoffs while they last, there’s nothing quite like them.  (Insert corny “if the action doesn’t melt the ice the warmer temperatures will” joke here).

Check back later this week for more puck talk, specifically recapping and previewing this year’s playoffs so far.

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