Playoff. Hockey. Two words that go so well together. As a more casual puckhead, I am one of those who tends to come out of hibernation about the same time the iceman begin to cultivate their postseason facial hair companions. Sue me. You may not be able to convince me that Saturday regular season matinees are worth hours of tube time in the fall, but the Stanley Cup Playoffs are the balls. Why? Let us count the ways.
Sure, it’s now been exploited by every team, the NHL and all appropriate brand marketers. Doesn’t matter. It’s a fabulous tradition. Who cares that you can’t even explain why? Grizzled men are manly men. Playoff hockey is the epitome of manliness. It just works.
Fever Pitch Fans
The regular season? Sure, you get some nice crowds. The big markets fill up. The Garden for the Devils. The Blackhawks and Red Wings. The playoffs, though? Fuggedaboutit. Packed houses with splitting decibel levels wherever you go. Throw in some towels, and you’ve got yourself a full-fledged ice party. It makes for enhanced viewing of an already tremendous product – whether live or on television.
In many sports, they say defense wins championships. It doesn’t hurt in hockey either. And the defense’s backbone is the man donning the custom mask manning the nets. Nobody stands more prominently in the spotlight’s bright glare than the goaltender. Each save seems magnified. Every mistake is unforgivable. But when your team is desperately holding onto that one-goal lead with the minutes and seconds refusing to move any swifter, it’s your goalie who holds the keys to your heart like no other.
The Power Play
You can get away with sub-par special teams during the regular season. Not so much come Cup time. What’s more, games shift on, well a shift, once someone heads to the box. It could mean the difference in the game. A prolonged kill, short-handed score or just a run-of-the-mill power play gooooal can often turn the tide of a series.
There may be no greater indication of the elevated meaning of playoff hockey then the number of guys hitting the ice to sacrifice their bodies and stop the puck by any means – and with any body parts – necessary. Alongside the kickoff return in football, hockey shot-blocking ranks right up there in my pantheon of scary-as-sh*t plays in professional sports.
Bad Blood Boils Quickly
A cheap hit during the regular season? At times, retaliation might take weeks if not months. Or the beef will simply die. Not in the playoffs. Memories are sharp and the time between games is too short for any score to go unsettled. What’s best is when those storylines then weave their way into the fabric of the series.
As a Rangers fan, I could do without the number of sudden death experiences through two rounds. That said, can anything get better than OT in a playoff game…
OK, yes. If you answered, “OT in a game seven” you would be correct. Even those settled-in-regulation game sevens offer more than enough stop-your-heart on every shift drama.
Line ‘em Up
And when it’s all over after each series, the tradition stands tall. One of the more telling moments for me was at the conclusion of the Rangers-Senators series. Following the final whistle, Ottawa goalie Craig Anderson skated directly to the tunnel…before realizing that the handshake trumps any momentary emotions…and headed back to make his way through the line.
This year’s ad campaign states in fairly simply. Because it’s the Cup. It’s the best trophy in all of sports. Read Big Daddy’s Drew’s short take on why. We could go on for days. But the best case for its importance might be the notion that players often have no words once it’s been held in their hands.
About the Author: Cecilio's Scribe is the founder of The Legend of Cecilio Guante and a generally pessimistic fan of the Mets, Jets, Knicks and Rangers. A fine NYC-based gentlemen who hones his marketing skills as his primary trade by day. Husband, chef, father of a newborn and after-hours blogger by night. Proud alum of the mighty Big Red of Cornell. University. Hot sauce devotee. Staunch protester of the continued wussifcation of American sports. Sometimes I rhyme slow, sometimes I rhyme quick.