By nature, I am a basketball guy. I play two or three times a week (not very well) and am a total college basketball fanatic. I usually enjoy the NBA playoffs as well, athletes competing at the highest level with the championship on the line. However, something magical happens nearly every season in the NHL playoffs. Teams that dominate the regular season find themselves going to Game 7 with a massive underdog. The drama of every single shot increasing tenfold because of the sheer randomness of hockey. Fans who have no interest staying up until midnight to watch two West Coast teams battle deep into the game. I often enter into conversations with my fellow basketball players about why NBA Playoffs cannot hold a candle to the NHL Playoffs but rarely find resolution on persuading them to my side. Hockey is a niche sport; the largest fan populations are found in the Midwest and Canada, while the NBA is a global sport. People who do not like hockey will not give themselves a chance to soak in the majesty of the NHL Playoffs.
In 2019, this point has been cemented. In the NHL Playoffs, fans have been treated to the following (bolded teams won):
- A seven game series, in which the last two games went to overtime (San Jose vs Vegas)
- A seven game series that saw the dismissal of last year’s champion in overtime (Carolina vs Washington)
- A seven game series that saw two historic teams battle until the end (Boston vs Toronto)
- A four game series in which the underappreciated knocked out the bully (NYI vs Pittsburgh)
- A four game series in which one of the best teams of all time in the regular season got swept away by an underdog that looked like they would be fodder (Tampa Bay vs Columbus)
The NBA Playoffs have been dotted with boring series after boring series. The favorites have been winning in convincing fashion, including my Detroit Pistons who looked like they did not even belong in the same city, losing to Milwaukee in four horrific games. The only thrilling moment came in the hands of Damian Lillard, hitting a buzzer beater to knock out OKC in five games. The Clippers and Spurs are hanging tough against heavy favorites, but the games themselves have been less than thrilling.
The NBA fans will always counter by illustrating that the later rounds pit the best of the best teams because the underdogs simply have no chance. I fully understand that; however, the first round in ANY playoff or competition should be the most fun. You have a large pool of teams and more games than any pair of eyes can handle at once. Knowing what the outcome will be ruins a large chunk of the playoffs. Hearing about why the first round is irrelevant and only the championships matter is exhausting; I watch sports to be entertained from start to finish. For the NBA, you may as well turn off the TV until the second round begins. For the NHL, I hold my breath with every single moment.
My hometown interests made the NBA Playoffs (Pistons) and did not make the NHL Playoffs (Red Wings). I found myself turning off the basketball blowouts my team endured to enjoy the captivating nature of two hockey teams I have zero affiliation with.
Time and time again, the NHL Playoffs provide the fans with the purest form of sport. The NBA Playoffs are an exercise in boredom until the best teams remain standing.
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Results from playoffs found at ESPN.com