Why the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best playoffs

Cole Anderson

I’d like to preface this column by saying that hockey is not usually my favorite sport; football is. And my favorite hockey team, the Los Angeles Kings, didn’t even make the playoffs this year. Nonetheless, I am going to make every effort to watch as much playoff hockey as I possibly can, because the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best playoffs, and here’s why.

Hockey is the most demanding mainstream sport I can think of. The combination of physical toughness, endurance, brute strength, acute finesse, mental fortitude, technical skill and overall athleticism is, in my opinion, unmatched. Hockey requires the physicality and aggression of football or rugby but on razor sharp blades that allow a player to travel faster than any human could run, into a hit. Handling, passing, shooting and otherwise controlling a hockey puck is similar to the technical ability of a baseball player making contact with a pitch, but the puck isn’t the only thing that is moving, and players have to also focus on everything else happening around them. Finally, hockey’s regular season is probably one of the most grueling endurance tests in sports. There are 82 games and games are every 2-3 days on average for a team, and the same players play every game, despite taking a beating like that of a boxing match every single time they suit up.

But those things aren’t necessarily what set the NHL playoffs above the rest. To win the Stanley Cup, a team has to win four straight best-of-seven series, with each game having at most two days to rest until the next. Players regularly play with bumps, bruises, sometimes broken bones and occasionally even stitches. Every single game is immensely important, and the gravity of each match-up is palpable for even the most uninterested viewer. The LA Kings played 21 games before they even started the final series in last year’s Stanley Cup. That’s a fourth of a full season in just over a month.

There is also something to be said about the cup itself, a nearly three-foot tall behemoth that is adorned by every name of every active participant of every winner in the history of the league. That means the cup grows every year, as more space is needed for the rosters of the winning team. A trophy that is not only huge but will continue getting even bigger is crazy.

Though the Stanley Cup Playoffs don’t cater as much to underdog, Cinderella-type runs that happen during March Madness, I submit that that is ultimately better because with very few exceptions, the better team wins each series and moves on. Unlike NFL playoffs where one loss means going home, the Stanley Cup Playoffs allows a team to have a bad game and still be in the running. But they also demand that players not only have a strategy, but also the unique mix of giving their all every game while also having the endurance to keep playing at a high level for the rest of the long season ahead.

But the best part about the Stanley Cup Playoffs is summed up by three words: sudden death overtime. If a game ends tied in regulation, there is no penalty shootout like the regular season; there is no tie like in soccer. The teams just play until someone scores. Normally this doesn’t seem all that compelling, but when both teams have already played a whole game, and neither wants to lose, a goal could take a while. Last year I watched a game take three overtimes to finally have a winner. And each overtime is the length of a regulation period, of which there are three… That’s two full games in one night; hard hitting, all-out hockey games. You haven’t seen pure elation in sports until you’ve seen game-winning goal celebrations in overtime playoff hockey. Grown men throwing their hands and equipment into the air in excitement are sights to behold, and awesome ones at that. And you should see what they do when that Stanley Cup-winning goal is scored: Most turn into six year olds on Christmas morning.

Oh, and don’t forget about the playoff beards.

Without a doubt in my mind, the Stanley Cup playoffs are the best in sports.