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9 Reasons Why The Stanley Cup Playoffs Is The Greatest Competition In Pro Sports

by: Esteban On  Thursday, April 26, 2012

stanley cup playoffs

The 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs are now officially underway and, after just one night and three games, the storylines are getting more interesting with every faceoff. I mean, who would have thought the Flyers would come back from a 3-goal deficit to snatch one from the Penguins in overtime?

Now, unpredictability is one of the things that makes any playoff format so much fun. But NHL Playoffs have more going for them than mere unpredictability—things that no other sport can boast.

So on that note, behold today’s list:

9 Reasons Why The Stanley Cup Playoffs Is The Greatest Competition In Pro Sports.

If you’re like me, and you can’t turn away from the TV during the NHL playoffs, then you already know all this stuff. But if you aren’t a hockey addict, maybe this list will inspire you to check out a game or two this April to see what all the fuss is about.

9. Beards

hartnell playoff beard

The playoff beard is so awesome (or sometimes awesomely terrible) that dudes in other sports have started copying NHLers by sporting beards during their playoffs. But basketball players look weird with big bushy beards and, while football players look badass, you barely see them with the helmets and face masks. So sue me if I think the original is still the best. (FYI, we have the 1980s dynasty New York Islanders to thank for this awesome tradition.)

8. Octopuses


Prior to expansion in 1967, when there were only 6 teams in the NHL, 4 teams would make the playoffs. Thus, only 8 victories were needed (in two best of 7 series) to claim the the Cup.

This fact led to The Octopus: on April 15, 1952, Pete and Jerry Cusimano hurled an octopus onto the ice at The Old Red Barn in Detroit. It was intended as a kind of good luck gesture for their home town Red Wings—they needed eight more wins, the octopus had eight legs. You get the idea.

That year, the Wings swept the Maple Leafs and then the Canadiens to claim the Cup. A tradition was born.

Is is gross? Yep. Is it inhumane? Well, I think they’re already dead, so no. But it is probably a waste of perfectly good calimari. Still, it’s one of the most fantastic and peculiar traditions in the world of pro sports, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

7. The Crowds

consol engergy center white out pittsburgh penguins stanley cup playoffs

All due respect to baseball fans, but no one can hold a flame to hockey crowds come playoff time. There is nothing more electrifying than sitting in the upper bowl of a hockey arena with 20,000 screaming maniacs during a playoff game. Everyone knows that something incredible could happen at any moment, so the tension in the air is palpable. Sure, the atmosphere at an October baseball game is also pretty special, it’s just not as consistently intense. So, all allegiances aside, I’d choose a playoff hockey game to a playoff baseball game 7 times out of 10.

6. What injuries?

shawn thornton stiches

When the “first season” ends and the “second season” begins, hockey players—dudes who don’t really mind if they lose a tooth or three—suddenly become even tougher than they already were.

“Injury, coach? I don’t know what you’re talking about. Oh, you mean my left arm and how it is literally about to fall off my body? Nah, that’s no biggie. And those two cracked ribs aren’t really bothering me, either. I should be good to go tomorrow.”

5. Handshakes


No matter how much the players hate each other, no matter how much bad blood was spilled, no matter how bad it hurts to lose—every single Stanley Cup Playoff series ends with an act of good sportsmanship.

The players on each team line up and shake each other’s hands one by one, just like you did when you played soccer as a 9-year-old. Because, at the end of the day, hockey players realize what so many football players do not: that their victories are totally meaningless if the opponents they defeated weren’t worthy warriors.

That’s what I call class.

4. The dude with the white gloves

Hockey’s ultimate prize, the Stanley Cup (a.k.a. the Holy Grail) is so freakin awesome that there’s a dude whose only job is to take care of it. And every year, when a team has a chance to claim the Cup with a victory, the TV producers will cut to a shot of that guy. He wears white butler gloves as he removes the trophy from it’s protective case, so as not to leave any smudges—because that’s no much this trophy is revered.

Simply put, this is the greatest trophy in pro sports. The only other object sought by athletes with as much passion is the Olympic Gold Medal. (They don’t exactly call the NBA Playoffs “The Larry O’Brien Trophy Playoffs,” do they?)

FYI, the dude with the white gloves has a name: Phil Pritchard. He’s the curator for the Hockey Hall of Fame, but is better known as the Keeper of the Cup.

3. No Flukes

Boston Bruins v Vancouver Canucks - Game Seven

Unlike baseball and football, winning the Stanley Cup is never, ever a fluke. Sure, there are shocking upsets here and there. But the playoffs are too intense, too grueling, and too insane for a team to simply get lucky. You only win the Cup if you are deserving.

Cinderellas may make it through to the finals (like the 2006 Oilers, 2003 Ducks, 2002 Hurricanes, 1998 Capitals, 1996 Panthers, or 1993 Kings), but that is where they die. Only the best survive four rounds; there are never asterisks in the Cup record books. And that is a thing of beauty.

2. Sudden death triple overtime

stephane-matteau-1994 overtime goal

Every sport has some form of overtime or another. But no overtime is more exciting than playoff hockey overtime.

Sure, extra innings in playoff baseball can be thrilling. Game 6 of the most recent World Series proved that. But extra innings in playoff baseball can also be a huge letdown—like if the away team scores 7 runs in the top of the 10th, and then we all have to sit around waiting for the inevitable.

Overtime in the Stanely Cup Playoffs, on the other hand, is sudden freaking death. Score and you win; get scored on and you lose.

And if it’s an elimination game? God help us. For players, any moment could be the most exalting or most depressing moment of their lives. For fans, well, it’s pretty much the same, since we live vicariously through our sports heros.

What else can compare to this? Seriously. I want to know. What else?

1. Players want it more than fans

The best thing about the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the thing which most sets this competition apart from others in the world of pro sports, is the fact that the players want to win more than their fans want to see them win.

Sure, basketball players talk about wanting to win championships, baseball players all say that playing in October is what really matters, and football players talk about getting a ring. But these days, doesn’t it always seem like some of the magic is gone from those championships?

This is not the case with the Stanley Cup. When players hoist the Cup over their heads, they look like 8-year-olds, even it’s their third time. It’s pure, unadulterated, innocent joy, and it always reminds me of what sports was like when I was a kid and athletes were heros instead of asses.

You gotta love it.