NHL Game 7s > Everything
Anyone who caught last night's game seven of the Sharks-Red Wings series would have to agree with my math aided tag-line above. Last night just served to reiterate the point that a game seven in the NHL might just be the best thing in sports.
Last night's hockey action was fantastic. The Sharks jumped to an early lead, but the Wings were able to battle back and end up down one goal in the closing minutes. Those closing minutes, as you'd expect, were ferociously contested. The action was back and forth, incredibly fast paced and featured a plethora of chances for the Red Wings. Ultimately, after a couple of great Niemi saves and clutch clears by the Sharks, San Jose took the series.
I know I talk a lot about how exciting great sporting events are. The excitement of The Masters, NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament, The World Cup ect. But one of my favorite events to sit down and watch is a game seven in The Stanley Cup Playoffs. To me the chase for Lord Stanley's Cup is the best championship tournament in pro sports. I honestly don't think that anything can compare to the combination of intensity, speed and skill on display in this great tournament. Last night's game featured all of those. This was excellent hockey, played at breakneck speed and with an unmatchable level of ferocity.
And that's the common thread spun through the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs - specifically the game sevens. As a Ranger fan I know I'll never forget the '94 Eastern Finals - a series decided in a game seven that featured scoring chance after scoring chance stonewalled by all-time goalies Mike Richter and Martin Broudeur. The Devils would fall to the Rangers in the second overtime, however, thanks to this beauty:
No joke, that gives me chills every time I watch it. Admittedly, that may have something to do with the fact that I watched the replay every day for following summer, but say what you want, that's just good! The Rangers would go on to mount Vancouver - as was so eloquently put by the play-by-play man in the above video. They'd win it in the seventh game - one of the more emotionally intense games Madison Square Garden has ever seen. However, as with the Sharks last night, the Rangers had to survive a furious late game onslaught by the Canucks before they could hoist the cup.
These are the two examples that resonate most clearly in my mind. I'm sure any hockey fan could remember their own tales of game seven glory. They're all so memorable. I mean, my memories of these games are from the tender age of five. I was just finishing kindergarten when I sat down with my father to tune in for these games - and they've crystalized as the only clear memories I have from that young an age. And I think that's because I appreciate, now and then, the style in which these games are played. That sort of fast paced, all or nothing, throw myself face first at a puck kind of speed and intensity. It's why these games are so good!
Now, because of the timing there will always be comparisons made between the NBA and NHL playoffs. To me, it's not close. In the interest of full disclosure let me say this: I'm not a big NBA guy. I think the game is too slow, too void of defense, too half court, too meaningless until the last four minutes and too full of traveling. Seriously. Are we even going to pretend like there's a rule against traveling anymore? I'm not sure I've seen a legal dunk yet this year. Don't get me wrong, I can appreciate good basketball. Much like the city of Miami, I like big events. So I can get jazzed up for a good final, but that's almost it - so take these next points with a grain of salt.
To me, the NHL playoffs are wildly better than the NBA. Wildly, you ask? Wildly - Much like the untamed fur that hangs from the chins of those lucky enough to make a deep run toward Lord Stanley's Cup. The reasons why are best exemplified in a game seven. You always hear that the NBA slows down in the playoffs, that it becomes a defensive, half court game. That's the opposite of the NHL. Just like last night's game seven, the NHL ramps up in the playoffs. The action is more intense than ever, faster up and down the ice. I mean, the last six minutes of last night's game took about seven minutes to play out. The last six minutes of a tight NBA game? That's about a half hour of your life right there, with the 14 time outs that will be called. Quick question, how many time outs do you get in the NBA? It seems like every team starts with about two dozen, but for every two used you get one back. You've really got to try and run out of timeouts in the NBA (looking at you Mike D'Antoni)
Anyway, yeah the NBA playoffs are intense, but not in the same way. You're not going to find yourself with a glove in your face and in the midst of a shoving match after every whistle on the hardwood. To me, the game is just so much more intense and exciting in the NHL.
Which by the way, is to say nothing of the toughness, which you've got to appreciate. Duncan Keith, a Chicago Blackhawk, took a puck to the mouth last year, lost seven teeth - SEVEN TEETH!!!! - and returned a few shifts later. Dude lost just under a fourth of his grill, got a drink and stepped back onto the ice. I mean come on! I know Rondo's injury was gruesome, but no one was even surprised to see Keith came back, while Rondo was suddenly the second coming of Willis Reed. We've got NBA players laying on their stomach getting a back-rub while their team is getting dusted, while NHL guys break their nose and basically rub some dirt on it and get back out there. I'm not saying the NBA guys aren't hurt, but it's just an odd juxtaposition between the two sports. There just seems to be something about the ever enduring hockey-mullet and ever present playoff-beard (both pictured above) that breeds toughness. I love it.
Look, this is a matter of opinion. If you dig on the NBA, I'm sure you vehemently disagree. But if you like consistent excitement from your sports I'm sure you side with the NHL (apologies for the argumentative phrasing). To me, you can't argue with the speed of play and excitement in the NHL. Instead of a game that slows down and becomes more methodical, the NHL ramps up and becomes the most intense championship tournament that exists. The NHL is a niche sport and will probably never be as big as the NBA. But I think if more people could check out just one game seven in the NHL, they could get hooked.