By Julian Dorey
There are plenty of cliché quotes in sports. One that I hear (and say) seemingly every April is: “There’s nothing like playoff hockey.”
What does that really mean, though? All four major sports have a postseason, and all of them are exciting. So what is it about hockey?
It’s simple: a hockey game has the quickest ups and downs. Contrary to a sport like basketball, a goal in hockey means a lot. A simple basket in the NBA is just two or three points out of 100. In hockey, a goal might be one of two.
When you compare hockey to a sport like baseball, it’s easy to say baseball can be just as exciting—the final scores often look similar to hockey (4-3, 5-2, etc.). But in baseball, it’s very clear as to when a team can score: when it’s up to bat. In hockey, a power play for one team can easily culminate with an errant pass leading to a breakaway goal for the shorthanded team.
In the playoffs, especially—with blood pressure and nerves high, and tenacity at a new level—the typical NHL game is “back and forth.” Every time a player approaches the blue line fans move up in their seats a little bit. Each shot is met with some kind of verbal reaction. The nerves and emotions of every fan shift faster than the skates of every player on the ice.
There’s no other way to explain it. Playoff hockey brings something out of fans that no other sport can. If I had a nickel for every time I watched a playoff hockey game with a non-hockey fan and watched them slowly get into the game like it was life and death, I would be a millionaire.
Two years ago, an NHL team pulled off something in the playoffs that had been done only once in the history of any other sport (and just two previous times in hockey). The Philadelphia Flyers came back from a three game deficit to beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 in a best-of-seven-games series. What was even more shocking was the Flyers were down 3-0 in the first period of game seven in Boston and came back to win the game 4-3 in regulation. If that doesn’t get you going, I don’t know what does.
Results like that tend to make the case for me. And, trust me, there are plenty more great examples.
There are also the traditions. Perhaps the most well-known one is the playoff beard. Each spring, most of the NHL players in the playoffs relegate their razors to the bottom cabinet. It’s supposed to be a “team unity” thing or something. To most fans, it’s just another funky, off-beat part of the playoffs that adds a little flavor. By the conference finals, most of the remaining players look more like cavemen than athletes. It doesn’t seem to affect their play, though.
This year is already off to an incredible start. More than 10 games across all of the first round series have gone to overtime. Upsets are brewing everywhere.
The only thing that remains the same from last year is the feeling everyone gets watching the drama unfold.
Tune in—it’ll be worth your while.