Apr 30, 2013; Chicago, IL, USA; Chicago Blackhawks left wing Bryan Bickell (29) is congratulated by his teammates for scoring the game-winning goal against the Minnesota Wild during overtime in game one of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs at the United Center. The Blackhawks beat the Wild 2-1 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Rob Grabowski-USA TODAY Sports

And It Begins: The Madness That Is The NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs

April 30, 2013; Anaheim, CA, USA; General view of Honda Center before the Anaheim Ducks play against the Detroit Red Wings in game one of the first round of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

I used to love college basketball.

Anyone who knows me will tell you this much: during March Madness, I was impossible to be around.  I watched every single game.  I filled out scores of brackets.  I screamed.  I yelled.  I laughed.  I’m pretty sure I cried.  I paced the floor like a restless animal.  In short, I was a bit of an ass.  A fan, yes, but an ass nevertheless.

Now I’m older, and I have started to notice something: when March Madness rolls into town, I don’t have anywhere near the interest I used to have.  Sure, I still enter a pool or two, and I catch a few games.  Gone, however, are the days where I used to spend twelve hours straight watching every game, living and dying with every shot.

Yes, I used to think college basketball owned the most exciting playoff system in the world.  Forgive me, I was young.  Now that I’m an adult, it’s painfully obvious where the real madness lies: in the most exciting playoffs in the world of sports, the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.

How else to explain why I find myself sitting in front of a TV, unable to tear myself away from a scoreless game?  Zero-zero hockey, and I’m riveted – it defies sports logic.  Scoreless baseball?  ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ.  Scoreless soccer?  That’s why I don’t watch soccer.  Scoreless football = bad teams.  Scoreless basketball = even worse teams.

Scoreless playoff hockey?  Some of the most nerve-wracking entertainment you will ever see in your life.

Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

For starters, even a scoreless game of hockey is played at a blistering pace, with some of the most gifted athletes alive on the planet on a fast playing surface that is not extremely expansive.  Teams move up and down the ice at breakneck speed, with offensive players making you drool with their offensive firepower and goaltenders causing your jaw to drop as they make impossible save after impossible save.

Secondly, the longer an NHL playoff game remains scoreless, the more the intensity of the game gets ramped up.  In those types of games, scoring a goal is akin to winning the lottery, so each team fights tooth and claw to be the first one to break the drought.  The tension builds in the crowd; players get chippy on the ice.  Everything builds, and builds, and builds . . . I’m getting goose-bumps just thinking about it!

But the real reason why the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the most exciting postseason in the world of sports?  Three words: sudden death overtime.  There is nothing like it in any other sport.  When you’re sitting on your couch, literally on the edge of your seat, gripping your legs, or the armrest, or your drink, or God help you your wife, so hard that the palms of your hands remain white for minutes after you let go, holding your breath with every shot because you know the next one in ends the game . . . once you’ve experienced that mixture of anxiety, excitement, euphoria, and nausea occurring simultaneously, you’ll have a hard time getting excited about any other sport’s “overtime” ever again.

The first two games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs both went into sudden death overtime last night, and both ended within minutes of each other with the home teams sending their fans into a frenzy with matching 2-1 victories.   One game ended with a terrible decision by an All-Star goalie; the other, with a beautiful two-on-one that salvaged a game for a heavily favored team.  These were simply the first two games of the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they were infinitely more thrilling than the championship game of the NCAA Final Four.  That’s the good news; the best news is that we’re just getting started.

NHL playoff hockey.  Ain’t nothing like it in the world.


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