By Lenn Robbins
The NHL Playoffs are over, with the St. Louis Blues beating the Boston Bruins in a fierce and physical seven games. Any team that beats a Boston team is a good team but that’s another story.
The NBA Playoffs were headed back to Oakland where the Kevin Durant-less Warriors are trying to rally from a 3-1 deficit against Kawhi and Co.
Knicks fans, they were fantasizing about the team signing Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving. Durant, of course tore his Achilles tendon. It’s not easy being a Knicks fan. Rangers fans were gazing at the two NHL finalists, stocked with young talent – and hoping the Blueshirts rebuild leads to the first Cup since 1994.
Friends and I have been watching both playoffs – often at Molly’s Pub on 3rd Ave where there’s sawdust is on the floor and cold beer on tap (See Smithwick’s). We don’t have rooting interests in any of the teams but we’re sports fans and watching live sports beats ‘Desperate Housewives of Any City’ any day.
We found ourselves gravitating to the NHL Playoffs, even the Dallas-St. Louis series which was as lacking in sex appeal as a hirsute man wearing a Speedo. My friend posed the question, “Why are the NHL Playoffs so much better than the NBA Playoffs?”
Here’s a Baker’s Dozen reasons why:
1. Beards. James Harden has a legendary beard. So, does every other NHL player in the playoffs. We humbly offer for your consideration San Jose Sharks veteran Joe Thornton, who has been growing his beard for 22 seasons. No stats available on how often it’s been washed.
2. Injuries. In the NBA, players suffer a sprained ankle and are out for weeks. In the NHL, players suffer a lower or upper body injury and, unless admitted to a hospital in critical condition, play the next game. Basketball players go for treatment. Hockey players go for repairs (See Zdeno Chara).
3. Pulling the goalie. Consider this scenario: A hockey team is down one goal with less two minutes to play. It pulls the goalie and voila! man advantage. Suddenly it’s 6-on-5, making those last two minutes frantic, physical, riveting, especially if it’s the home team trailing. No such luck in the NBA.
4. Doc Emrick. The NBA has some outstanding play-by-play announcers. Ask them to name best in the business and they’ll say, “Emrick!” Emrick got his PHD in communications at Bowling Green, thus, the ‘Doc,’ nickname. He uses words such as ‘floats, knifes and ladles’ the puck into the zone. Who doesn’t like a good ladle?
5. Sudden Death. I know. We had you at ‘Sudden Death.’
Want to hear 20,000 screaming maniacs silenced in a nanosecond? Listen to what happens in an arena when the visiting team scores the game winner in overtime. Sudden death. Instance silence.
Want to hear the sound of a Navy fighter jet taking off from an aircraft carrier? Listen to what happens when the home team wins in sudden death. Sudden insanity. Sudden combustible explosion of hot air.
6. Goals. Almost every goal can determine the outcome of a NHL playoff game. Can you say that about every basket in an NBA playoff game? No. Even non-goals – the sound of the puck hitting the post is as delightful to a goalie’s ears as asking the family dog, ‘Do you want to go out?’’
7. Small markets. The NHL has playoff teams in small markets such as Columbus, Calgary, Winnipeg and St. Louis, where pro hockey is the only show in town. It generates a nuclear fanaticism. How every home in those small markets isn’t burglarized on game nights is bafling. Most residents are at the game, gathered outside the arena, at a bar, or a viewing party. Was anyone home in St. Louis Wednesday night?
Not so in the NBA. You can have a playoff game in New York (hey, we live in a world of hope!) and 8 million residents couldn’t care less.
8. Time outs. Teams get one per game in the NHL, making the TO as precious as the amount of storage on a teenager’s smartphone. NBA teams get six timeouts per game.
When an NBA team calls a timeout, the head coach does the talking and draws up the play. When an NHL team calls a timeout, an assistant coach does the talking and draws up the play. Why isn’t he the head coach?
9. Power plays. If a player fouls out in an NBA game, another player subs in. Get called for a penalty in the NHL and one team is playing 6-on-5. The penalized player must sit in the penalty box and feel much shame, like a schoolkid that is told to sit in the corner. The video boards always show the offender sitting forlornly, wiping his helmet and glancing at the video board to see a replay of his own offense.
10. Speed. Steph Curry should be ticketed for how quickly he can up the court. The slowest player in the NHL can go end to end, twice, faster. Pucks streak across the ice. Players, hair flowing (Flow!), whiz by on skates. The Kentucky Derby can claim the fastest two minutes in sports. NHL games can go end-to-end in less time than you can say, Alex Ovechkin.
11. Handshakes. It doesn’t happen in the NFL, NBA or MLB. And none of those sports come close to the man-on-man brutal battles that is the NHL playoffs.
Yet when the series ends, when the winning team is too drained to fully fathom its triumph and the losing team is too demoralized to comprehend its defeat, the combatants meet at center ice for the handshake line. One second a player is trying to remove an opponent’s spleen, the next second those same two players are congratulating each other on a series well fought. Go figure.
12. Fights. OK. Let’s get to it. Some NBA teams develop real animosity towards one another in a playoff series – see Rockets vs Warriors. Occasionally that leads to a Flagrant 1 technical foul, the parking ticket of offenses.
In the NHL, many players develop white-hot, blood-red disdain for one another. And they have sticks in their hands! A slash (see Rat Marchand) or crosscheck (see Rat Marchand) leads to a shove which leads to a punch, which leads to the gloves dropped.
PLUS ONE: National anthems. The Star-Spangled Banner is a nice anthem. God Bless America would be better, especially Ray Charles’ rendition. But neither can match ‘Oh Canada!’
At some arenas, the singer begins the anthem and holds out the mic to allow some 20,000 fans to serenade each other. It’s like a Springsteen concert when he plays Waiting on A Sunny Day. Thank goodness for the Toronto Raptors, the only Canadian team left in the playoffs.