They say that the Stanley Cup is the hardest trophy to win in professional sports. I think that most people who have their name engraved on the trophy would easily agree. It even hurts to watch the highlight packs sometimes.
Having the Ottawa Senators advance to the Stanley Cup Finals a few years ago only cemented how great a playoff run can be. As a fan, nothing beats watching your favourite team advance, round-after-round, all the way to their chance at hockey’s most prestigious award. For us here in Ottawa, the end result was a bit of a letdown, but the experience was unbeatable.
This year I’ve had a chance to watch the playoffs more objectively, and looking back at other years as well, I’ve confirmed one thing: nothing beats the second round of the playoffs.
The first round can be pretty entertaining. You get excited that the playoffs are back, and the first round brings about the occasional upset victory, and the start of a few Cinderella stories (think Edmonton in 2006). But for the most part, the first round is kind of predictable. It’s easy to see the best teams and predict who will advance.
The third round is a good round too, but at this point you’re thinking more about the big show rather than the Conference Finals. Usually one team has had an easy run to the third round, and another team that has fought tooth and nail. The other thing that comes up in the third round is an umpteen amount of injuries. This often leaves one team out of the two at a serious disadvantage. For the most part, the Conference Finals don’t provide the drama.
And again, the Finals bring on the final act, and it is exciting. But there’s only a game every two days, so no matter how exciting it is, you still have to wait. If you have nothing at all invested in the matchup, then it’s not that great.
The above reasons are why the second round is so strong. This is when you get invested in a team.
Just look at this year’s matchups. Three of the series were locked in at 2-2 before Saturday’s games. The teams are healthy, beating each other up, and there are two games every day. You don’t even have to be a fan of any of the teams to appreciate the level of hockey being played. But that’s when you become a fan.
The matchups are more even, the storylines are better. I don’t know about you, but I’m more excited about who is going to the Conference Finals between Washington and Pittsburgh, then I am about who is going to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The other thing about the second round is that it sets the tone for the rest of the playoffs. Playoff performers begin to emerge (remember Johan Franzen last year), and teams begin to show their true mettle (look at the Carolina Hurricanes this year as an example).
All I can say about the second round right now is that I don’t want it to end.
I hate to do it, but to quote Sean Avery: “The NHL has to do a better job at marketing.”
Okay, maybe not a better job at marketing, but they have to figure out their timing. We’ve all heard the news about the Phoenix Coyotes bankruptcy. It’s a bit of a black mark on the league, but there’s an old saying that any publicity is good publicity.
In other words, the Phoenix Coyotes story would be a fantastic way to put the NHL in the news, oh I don’t know, in the middle of the summer when nobody is thinking about hockey.
But instead, the NHL is dealing with this problem when any NHL news should be focused on the playoffs. Now I’m not suggesting that they have any control over the timing, but perhaps they could have been a bit more involved in Phoenix rather than trying to dust the news under the rug. By painting such a rosy picture in the Sun Belt, the NHL has completely ignored the problem.
If they embrace the problem in the middle of summer, the NHL is back in the news again, and hey, they will be creating some excitement for the upcoming season. If this played out during July and August, how excited would you be to find out who is going to be playing in Southern Ontario in October.
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