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Sports Authority

Ivey: NHL playoffs sure to be special

| Tuesday, April 21, 2015

The 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs started Wednesday, and if the rest of the playoffs are anything like the first night was, we’re going to be in for a special next couple of months.

The first game of the playoff series between Montreal and Ottawa featured breathtaking back-and-forth action and some heated exchanges. Canadiens star defenseman P.K. Subban slashed Senators forward Mark Stone in the wrist and was ejected from the game. The Canadiens ended up winning the game by a score of 4-3, and Stone suffered a small micro fracture in his wrist, but the league determined Subban would not be punished any further. Many people were outraged by this, including many players and coaches for the Senators.

“[Subban] knew what he was doing. … Obviously it was a pretty big hack,” Stone said after the game. “Looked like he wanted to hurt me.”

Senators head coach Dave Cameron hinted the Senators might retaliate further throughout the rest of the series.

“I think it’s an easy solution: You either suspend him, or one of their best players gets slashed and just give us five [penalty minutes],” he said. “Not that complicated.”

Game on.

In the first game of the playoff series between Chicago and Nashville, the Predators came out firing on all cylinders, scoring three goals in the first period to take a 3-0 lead heading into the first intermission. Many hockey analysts and fans declared the game over.

At the beginning of the second period, the Blackhawks pulled starting goalie Corey Crawford and replaced him with journeyman backup goalie Scott Darling. The Blackhawks went on to score three goals in the second period to tie the score at three. After a scoreless third period, fans got their first taste of the year of the most heart-pounding, excruciating-yet-exhilarating type of sports action there is, sudden death playoff hockey. During 20 minutes of overtime, both teams had great chances to win the game, including multiple power plays, but neither team could solve the other team’s goalie. They would need a second overtime to decide things. Going late into the night, both teams fans were hoping and praying to the hockey gods that someone on their team would emerge as the hero.

Finally, seven minutes into the second overtime period, Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith shot a puck from the right side of the goal that somehow found its way past Predators goalie Pekka Rinne and into the net, giving the Blackhawks a stunning come-from-behind win. Darling stopped all 42 shots he faced in relief.

These examples and more are why hockey’s playoffs are better than any other sport’s playoffs even the NCAA basketball tournament. Basketball playoffs are fun, too, but the NCAA tournament only lasts a couple weekends, and the same teams basically win the NBA Finals every year. When was the last time a 5-8 seed won the NBA title? It’s basically not worth watching until the conference finals because we already know what’s going to happen: The highest seeds will make it, and the team LeBron is on will make the Finals.

Football playoffs are a little better, and the introduction of the College Football Playoff has made college football way better. But there are still not enough teams for both the college and NFL playoffs. Until they add more spots in the playoffs to add more high-octane playoff games, football playoffs will always be looked at as an “it would be so much better if” event.

I enjoy watching the MLB playoffs, too, but it’s the same as football: not nearly enough teams. Not to mention the slow pace of baseball games that usually deters fans from watching until the World Series.

But hockey playoffs feature exciting action night in and night out, no matter what round it is. A team hasn’t repeated as champions since 1998, and the players go through so much to win. Back in 2013, Boston Bruins player Gregory Campbell suffered a broken ankle during a game, and instead of skating off, he stayed out onto the ice and continued to play. In 2011, Blackhawks defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson played the entire playoffs with a torn ACL and MCL.

People think things like this are crazy, but the teammates of these players have come out and said it inspires them to play better. With the combination of players playing through excruciating play, unsung heroes emerging, heated rivalries coming to a boiling point, a win-at-all costs mentality and breathtaking, pulse-pounding action, there’s no other sports experience like it.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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