April 18, 2006

NHL Playoffs Set to Start Amidst Non-recognition

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The NHL playoffs are set. The teams are ready to battle. ESPN, ABC, OLN and every other NHL-highlight-carrying network are ready to hype the games as much as possible. The question is … does anyone care?

Tonight the Rangers and Senators will duke it out in what is clearly the most intriguing game of the night and perhaps the season. The Senators will be looking to clinch home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs (with a little help from the Hurricanes), while the Rangers will look to lock up the Atlantic Division title.

That division – for those of you who don’t realize – takes center stage tonight, as the third-place Devils (99 points), second-place Flyers (also 99 points) and division-leading Rangers (100 points) all hit the ice for their final game of the regular season. What’s important about that is the division winner will get the third seed in the East playoffs, while the second-place and third-place teams will get the fifth and sixth seeds in the East, respectively. The Eastern Conference playoffs come down to one excruciatingly intense night of hockey.

Does anyone realize?

Last night, the bottom three seeds in the Western Conference playoffs were set, with the Oilers, Avalanche and Ducks all skating for their respective playoff spots. The Oilers and Avalanche actually played each other, determining if the Avalanche would get the No. 7 or No. 6 seed.

But no one seemed to notice that either.

I have a stats prelim tonight and I’m going to miss everything. By the time the prelim is over, the entire playoff picture will be in focus. Yet, I don’t know if anyone really cares about what I’ll be missing. I don’t know if my TAs and professor will realize how much I’m sacrificing by taking that prelim. I don’t think anyone who knows me will either, unless they read this column.

What is wrong with everyone!

Forget that I didn’t even mention the plethora of downright good games tonight that aren’t determining the playoff-picture – Sabers vs. Hurricanes, Red Wings vs. Predators, even St. Louis vs. Chicago (the battle of bottom-dwellers). Forget that half of last night’s games were just as good. It’s the NHL playoffs I’m talking about here!

I’m talking about the best playoffs in any sport, period. Better than baseball. Much better than basketball. Almost as good as football – though some might say even better. Better than a Masters playoff between Tiger Woods, Phil Mickleson and Vijay Sing.

How could you all have forgotten about the NHL Playoffs? It’s the one with the fast-paced skating, far faster than any human could ever go on foot, with guys screaming down the wings, streaking side-to-side, up and down the ice. It’s the one with the fast, sharp passes that smack the sticks with a loud “clap,” accentuating the beautiful movement and visionary passing of the players as they try to dissect their opponent’s defense. It’s the one with the momentum-churning hits at mid-ice and the bone-crushing checks along the boards that beckon a deafening roar from the crowd, drowning out the thud of the players hitting the fiberglass. It’s the one with the 100-mph slapshots, the improbably fast-reacting goaltenders, the genius defensemen and the world-class forwards. It’s the playoffs with the most attitude, grit and blinding intensity throughout. And it’s the only playoffs with Mike Emrick screaming “DRIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIVE AND SAVVVVVVE,” or describing a pass as being “feathered along” or “spirited on.”

Okay, so that got out of hand. But think about this – NHL playoff games are always better quality than regular season contests, and consistently at the highest-quality of play that the sport can offer, and it’s hard to say that about other sports’ playoffs.

So why have you all forgotten about the NHL playoffs? And an even better question is why has everyone forgotten about hockey?

I have suffered through some harsh hockey beatings over the years as a Rangers fan. But the “new” NHL is faster, has more skill, better hitting, smarter and more intriguing play, and is more impressive and filled with quality play than I’ve ever seen in my lifetime. The new rules and interpretations of the rules are creating superior play, and it’s making hockey fun to watch again. The most athletic and smart players are finally shining, and the teams that are winning are the teams playing the best hockey.

Yet, most of you can’t name the NHL’s leading scorer or near-unanimous MVP. Or best rookie (and it’s not that Sidney Crosby guy you heard a lot about before the season). Any takers for best team?

No, no one really cares about any of that.

Is hockey really that boring? Definitely not. You all have been to Cornell hockey games. Many of you watched the triple-overtime thriller. You know how exciting good hockey can be.

And that’s just college hockey. This is the best hockey … in the world … ever. It’s the best hockey anyone has ever seen.

And you’re ignoring it?

Maybe it just comes down to people not wanting to care. Perhaps you just forgot and need a reminder. Or maybe you just don’t have a team to root for … well just pick one then.

I just want everyone to realize how good the NHL has been this year, how good it is right now and how good it will be in the playoffs.

But I guess it doesn’t matter if you don’t want to watch. You’re the ones who are missing out.

Josh Perlin is a Sun Assistant Sports Editor. My Pitch will appear every other Tuesday this semester.

Archived article by Josh Perlin