There is a sense of urgency and excitement around the month of April, not just for the start of spring but for the start of the NHL and NBA playoffs.
The playoffs for every major sports league are, in their own right, interesting and captivating.
However, the NHL’s Stanley Cup playoffs set the bar for drama – pure, unadulterated, heart-stopping, dream-crushing drama.
The Stanley Cup, possibly the most iconic trophy in the sports world, has been called by many the “toughest trophy to win and defend in sports.”
The numbers can back that argument up.
It has been 16 years since a team repeated as Stanley Cup Champions. That distinction belongs to the Detroit Red Wings, who won the 1997 and 1998 Stanley Cup.
Teams have come close to repeating, but the grind of an 82-game season and the playoffs has proved to be too much.
In contrast, the NBA’s Miami Heat are looking to win their third-straight NBA championship.
Moreover, who can forget the dynasties of the Los Angeles Lakers and the Michael Jordan-led Chicago Bulls?
The New England Patriots of the NFL captured back-to-back Super Bowls in 2004 and 2005.
The New York Yankees won three straight World Series Championships in 1998, 1999 and 2000.
There is a degree of unpredictability when it comes to competing for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
However, the same cannot be said for a few other sports leagues.
Perhaps the best example of this is the NBA’s Heat.
When LeBron James made his decision to take his talents to South Beach, there came an expectation of greatness.
James, Chris Bosh and Dwyane Wade delivered, and now they are expected to win the championship every season.
There is a significant lack of parity among the teams; it is apparent that the upper-echelon of teams is limited.
In the NHL, parity rules the day.
For example, the Colorado Avalanche won the draft lottery for the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, and the team chose Halifax Mooseheads forward and Calder Trophy-contender Nathan MacKinnon.
The Avalanche, who finished with the second-worst record in the NHL and the worst in the Western Conference, are now the top team in the Central Division and are contenders once again.
In the NBA, teams need two or three stars to be considered “legitimate” playoff or title contenders.
Teams like Charlotte or Atlanta, who have one star at most, are toiling in basketball mediocrity.
Meanwhile the Columbus Blue Jackets, who do not have the star power that gets fans talking, have a legitimate chance to upset the Pittsburgh Penguins, a star-laden team.
My point is that the predictability in basketball is more prevalent than it is in hockey.
Let’s be honest, the world is waiting for the Heat to meet the Indiana Pacers; it’s inevitable.
The lack of predictability in the Stanley Cup playoffs adds to the mystique that encompasses it.
That is not the only thing that makes the NHL playoffs the best: The pure difficulty of hoisting the Cup at season’s end is a contributing factor.
It takes 16 games to win the Stanley Cup – a tough 16 games.
The body can take a lot of abuse. After all, the abuse is what makes hockey unique.
Blood has been spilled, bones have been broken, muscles have been torn and tears have been shed all in the name of Lord Stanley.
Watching grown men weep after coming up short in the Stanley Cup Final is difficult to watch because these athletes can be looked upon to be at their best every night, even emotionally.
Just think of Adam Oates crying after the then-Anaheim Mighty Ducks fell to the New Jersey Devils in the 2003 Stanley Cup Finals. As a kid, it was heartbreaking to witness.
This year, it’s all about the heralded veterans like Anahiem’s Teammu Selanne and Boston’s Jarome Iginla chasing their first cup win of their long, illustrious careers
Moreover, in the NHL, just because teams finish first or second in their conference does not mean they get first-round byes like in the NFL.
Home-ice advantage in the NHL can make or break teams. It affects teams, whether they like to admit it or not.
The crowds at Bell Centre in Montreal or the United Center in Chicago have caused a lot of panic among teams that visit during playoff time.
Teams in the MLB or the NBA would love to have the advantage NHL franchises are given during crunch time.
Overall, there is nothing like the Stanley Cup playoffs. It is the most unique and exhilarating playoffs system in all major professional sports leagues. The heart and soul poured into winning the Stanley Cup cannot be matched.