Regardless of the time of year, the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs often turns out to be the most exciting.
The playoffs began on May 2nd (Monday) which is actually two weeks earlier than last year but three weeks later than a normal season.
We have to go back to 2018-19 for the last normal NHL season when the playoffs started on April 10th.
Each year, pandemic or no pandemic, one can argue that the Conference quarterfinals provide the most entertainment.
Sure if your team makes the Stanley Cup Final, obviously that championship series will hold more weight, but there are a number of factors that make the Sweet 16 the most compelling of the four rounds:
MULTIPLE GAMES EACH NIGHT: Not every game is a masterpiece, but there are a few to choose from that hold one’s interest; somewhat similar but on a smaller scale to what helps make the NFL successful on Sundays in the fall. Clicking the channel from one game to the next can add to the drama and keep the viewers on edge. This week we have been given a menu of four games per night.
LURE OF THE UPSET: With more opportunities in the opening round, the lower-ranked teams have their best chance of defeating the higher seed. In all likelihood, there is at least one stunning surprise, if not more, but we can only guess which series will produce the “shocker.” After games on Thursday, six of the first-round series are tied 1-1 with just Carolina and Colorado ahead 2-0. In other words, it is all about competitiveness and games decided in the third period or later.
If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
At least that’s what NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman thinks about the league’s current playoff structure.https://t.co/GE9Of53MTz
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) May 5, 2022
MEMORIES ERASED: Whether you are the top seed or the team that barely qualified as an eighth seed, the first round offers one important intangible, and that is HOPE. Yes, the memories of the 82 regular season schedule and previous playoff failures are erased as teams begin 0-0.
Pure Hockey: The playoffs do not provide gimmicks like three-point games and shootouts. They compete until there is a “true” winner for as long as it takes, not a skills competition. Overtime with no time limit keeps us up late but the lost sleep is worth the extra entertainment value. Often, most overtimes occur in the first round. On Tuesday, the Rangers and Penguins played a triple-overtime classic, with Pittsburgh winning 4-3, scoring on its 83rd shot of the game.
Over 150 shots. Six periods. Three goalies.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won a WILD game against the New York Rangers to open up their playoff series.https://t.co/iuO2LRHZtV
— The Hockey News (@TheHockeyNews) May 4, 2022
More storylines: There are always players that come out of the woodwork from a mediocre regular season to blossom in the playoffs. Who will those skaters and goalies be in 2022? In addition, with eight series in the first round, that is more than the final three rounds combined. The more match-ups the more intriguing.
More Canadian teams: Most fans in this country want the Stanley Cup back in Canada after a 29-year absence (Montreal 1993). This year, there are three teams (Calgary, Edmonton, and Toronto) that stand a chance following the regular season, and that number will be trimmed in future rounds. By the way, fans of the Maple Leafs should really enjoy the moment since they are the least likely Canadian team to go on a run.
The Pool: Hockey pools are more fun in the opening round because all participants start at full strength. In other words, after the draft, everyone thinks they have picked the best team, but those thoughts are quickly put to rest once teams and players are eliminated. If you have 12 players on your fantasy hockey pool team to start but are quickly down to four by round two, the disappointment leads to frustration and a possible lack of caring.
The weather: Hockey is still on our mind in early May but six weeks later in June, there’s a lawn to cut, camps to seek, sunshine to bask in, and a barbecue that awaits. The hotter the temperature outside, the cooler reception to hockey inside.
To be honest, once your favourite team(s) is eliminated, the passion to watch the other teams play lessons significantly. It is only human nature. This doesn’t mean, rounds two to four, aren’t worthy of one’s consideration especially since there is more on the line the further a team advances.
The Stanley Cup playoffs are an institution with many Canadians “catching the bug”, but there is still that mystique about the first round that offers a uniqueness that grabs special attention.
Cat Scan podcast
CAT SCAN: @Hartley_Miller chats with @PGCougars head coach and general manager Mark Lamb in the final episode of the season
| https://t.co/E3UuWSsg9d #CityOfPG #PrinceGeorge #northernbc #sports #northernuprising pic.twitter.com/daGldSLumr
— My Prince George Now (@mypgnow) May 3, 2022
2023 WJC to Halifax/Moncton . . . Oil Kings’ Cossa blanks Rebels . . . McCrimmon not going anywhere https://t.co/hrkuO8FrPM
— Gregg Drinnan (@gdrinnan) May 6, 2022
FROM THE QUOTE RACK:
Tennis great Boris Becker was sentenced to 2½ years in an English prison for hiding assets after he was declared bankrupt. Sounds like Boris had quite a racket going.
*Dwight Perry of the Seattle Times http://www.seattletimes.com/author/dwight-perry/
Three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Becker, sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for hiding assets and loans to avoid paying debts, says he was acting on advice. The judge disagreed, however, ruling that Boris’ actions were an unforced error.
*Contributor Bill Littlejohn of South Lake Tahoe, California
The 3-22 Cincinnati Reds now have had three players added to COVID 19 list. Normally that means teams have to call up minor league players. So Cincinnati will basically be making lateral moves?
*Comedy writer Janice Hough of Palo Alto, California www.leftcoastsportsbabe.com
In Case You Missed It:
How about the dad at a Cincinnati MLB game who made a one-handed catch of a foul ball – while bottle-feeding his baby. He earned a rookie jersey for his infant son and a contract offer from the Reds.
*Western Canadian comedy writer RJ Currie www.Sportsdeke.com
Hartley Miller is the news and sports director/supervisor plus morning news anchor for 94.3 the GOAT and Country 97fm. He also is the radio color commentator for P.G. Cougars’ home games. Hartley has been on the Prince George airwaves since 1979 and is the author of You Don’t Say (sports quotes).