AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
If you’re not a hockey fan – and we know there are a LOT of you out there – it might be a good time to reconsider.
The NHL playoffs are the greatest show in sports at the moment.
You certainly won’t miss anything by flipping away from the NBA.
While the hoops postseason is blighted by one rout after another, the NHL is putting on a stellar show that should be drawing much higher ratings.
Even Charles Barkley, the NBA analyst for Turner Sports and never one to temper his viewpoint, has jumped on the bandwagon.
“Thank God for the NHL playoffs,” Barkley said last week on TNT’s postgame show. “That’s what I’m watching in the back instead of these blowouts.”
The NHL is providing everything the postseason is supposed to be about. Gripping drama almost every night. Passionate players willing to skate through a wall if that’s what it takes. A sense that just about any team can win the Stanley Cup if the puck bounces the right way.
Through 75 playoff games, a staggering 47 were decided by a single goal – including 26 that required sudden-death overtime. That’s only five off the record for most one-goal games in a single postseason, set in 2007.
Beyond that, 16 games had a two-goal margin. Only 12 could be classified as blowouts, the margin three goals or more.
On Thursday night, Game 4 of the Western Conference final provided another nail-biter . The Anaheim Ducks built a 2-0 lead. The Nashville Predators tied it with two goals in the final 6 1-2 minutes of regulation. The Ducks got the winner at 10:25 of overtime when Corey Perry’s shot ricocheted into the net off Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban.
That’s what it’s come down to in these playoffs.
A lucky bounce here and there.
Then there’s the NBA, which still draws the bulk of the sports-watching eyeballs at this time of the year.
It’s not nearly as deserving.
Certainly not this postseason.
Through the first 68 games, only 28 came down to single-digit margins, and just a handful were decided by the final shot. Overtime games? Only three – the same number of games that were decided by 30-plus points.
The drama factor was basically indiscernible.
The teams that met in the last two NBA Finals, Golden State and Cleveland, were breezing toward a three-peat rematch. The Warriors are 10-0 in the postseason, while the Cavaliers took a 9-0 mark into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference final at Boston on Friday night.
The NHL is not nearly so predictable.
The Washington Capitals, who had the best regular-season record, have already been eliminated. Ditto for the Chicago Blackhawks, who had the best record in the Western Conference but were swept in the opening round by Nashville, the lowest-ranked team in that side of the draw.
The Ottawa Senators, who are facing Pittsburgh in the East final, had only the sixth-most points in their conference.
There’s something to be said for a bit of uncertainty.
No wonder Sir Charles is watching the NHL in his spare time.
“Anything can happen,” Barkley said during a phone interview on the NHL Network. “Not just this year in the NBA, where we know the Warriors and Cavaliers are gonna play for the finals, but most of the time, you know until you get deep in the (NBA) playoffs, the games are not gonna be that competitive. But it’s not that way in hockey.”
Before we get too carried away, it’s worth noting that the NBA does a much better job of promoting, protecting and showcasing its stars.
We all want to see LeBron vs. the Splash Brothers in the finals, while the NHL could end up with Ottawa vs. Nashville for the Stanley Cup – a ratings buzzkill if there ever was one.
Despite efforts to open up the game, the hockey playoffs still tend to degenerate into a defensive-minded slog that is virtually unwatchable at times. Instead of the free-flowing style that was prevalent in the 1980s – most beautifully displayed in the 1987 Canada Cup final between Canada and the Soviet Union, where every game ended up 6-5 and two of them went to overtime – teams are much more defensive these days, knowing that’s the best way to level the ice.
Ottawa is the most extreme example. Eight of the Senators’ first 10 victories in the playoffs were decided by a single goal, with all but one of those going to overtime.
Sometimes, you can get too much of a good thing.
But we’ll take that over the NBA playoffs, where the average postseason margin was nearly 13 points.
We’ll let Barkley have the final word.
“The Stanley Cup playoffs,” he said, “they are the best thing in sports.”
For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey