Every year the Stanley Cup Playoffs run parallel to the NBA Playoffs. But the Stanley Cup Playoffs never get the buzz that the NBA’s get, which is a shame. ESPN devotes infinitely more attention to the NBA. A clinching playoff game in the NHL is mentioned after a Lebron James free agent rumor, even though nothing will happen with Lebron until July. The NBA playoffs are far inferior to the NHL version for a lot of reasons. In fact, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are one of the most exciting sporting events this side of March Madness. Here are some reasons why.
1. The teams are more evenly matched
While the Washington Capitals ran away with the league’s best record, the norm in the NHL is for the 1 seed and the 8 seed to not be far separated. The top seed in the West, the San Jose Sharks, had 8 more wins than 8th seeded Colorado, and 4 more than 7th seeded Nashville. That’s not a large gap. By contrast, the Cleveland Cavaliers had 20 more wins than 8th seeded Chicago, and 11 more than 4th seeded Boston. That leads to far more competitive series in the NHL.
2. Superstars don’t determine all
One of the worst things about the NBA is how superstar driven the league is. Players like Kobe Bryant and Lebron James play nearly the entire game and take the bulk of their teams shots. If one of them were to get hurt, their teams are done in the playoffs. What’s worse is they get all the calls, and a player like Kobe or Lebron will never foul out. By contrast, superstars in the NHL matter, but depth is far more important. Players usually play about 1/3 to 1/2 of the game. In 2008, the hyped series between Washington and Pittsburgh saw stars Alexander Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby rarely on the ice at the same time. Instead you need at least 3 strong lines to compete in the NHL. That’s why Washington and Pittsburgh were sent home early. What’s more, superstars don’t get preferred treatment. Flyers star Chris Pronger had a huge 4 minute minor called on him in a key spot in the clincher against Montreal. That wouldn’t happen in the NBA.
3. The goalie is the most important position in all of playoff sports
A quarterback is important, but NFL teams have won with mediocre QBs before, such as the 2000 Ravens. Pitchers are vital in baseball, but starters only throw once every 3 or 4 games. But you can’t win without a strong goalie. A good goalie can single handedly carry your team. Jaroslov Halak allowed 3 goals over the last 3 games in Montreal’s 3-1 comeback against Washington. That’s a remarkable performance.
4. The series are just more evenly matched
The NBA’s conference semifinals saw 3 sweeps and one 6 game series that the Cavaliers quit on after 4 games. Meanwhile the NHL’s Eastern Conference put up 2 classics, with the Flyers coming back from 3 games to down to make history and eliminate the Boston Bruins, coming back from 3-0 Game 7 deficit. Meanwhile Montreal came back from 3-2 down to win Games 6 and 7, the deciding game coming on the ice of the defending champions. It’s rare that sort of thing happens in other sports.
5. The playoffs aren’t as drawn out
While the NBA Playoffs last an eternity, with teams having as many as 4 days off between games, the NHL flows much smoothly, usually with only one off day between games, and rarely 2 off days. That allows momentum to build, as it did in the Flyers-Bruins series. While NBA teams sometimes wait 4 days to play each other between games in a series, the NHL keeps it flowing, and teams keep their intensity at a high level.