I am always dumbfounded that sports fans and media can tell you how great or how dull a game it was simply by looking at the final score. The final score tells you who won and lost but it fails to mention the how and the why. It is the last two that puts the game into context. A 4-3 score in a baseball game won’t say that the winning team got four runs in the bottom of the ninth on a grand slam home run after the opposing pitcher retired the first 26 batters he faced.
Many experts will tell you that a 1-0 or 2-1 game is boring, uninteresting. That maybe true but unless you actually watched the game, who are we to judge? Even those who did watch the game often point to the scoreboard to tell you how the game went. Take Friday’s Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference Final. There was no scoring in the first 45 minutes of the game but it was hardly boring. Both Ben Bishop and Henrik Lundqvist made some big saves off of tremendous scoring opportunities. Lundqvist in particular had to make a few stops from a talented goal-scorer in Steven Stamkos.
Same goes with the Memorial Cup final between Oshawa and Kelowna on Sunday. Like the Rangers-Lightning game, this one was also low scoring but had plenty of chances from both ends. Players were able to move freely and there were very few penalties. I witnessed a 1-0 game in the GMHL playoffs this past season. It was both interesting and compelling to watch despite the score. This coming from a league where lighting the lamp is common. In contrast, I’ve seen games where the scores were 10-8 or 9-7 and those games were not exciting mainly because how easy those goals were scored. But people will look at the score and say it must have been a great game to see.
I would argue that it is not to lack of goals (or points, or runs) that makes these games seem dull to many people. It is actually the lack of scoring chances that gives them that impression. I will also argue that the rarity of scoring makes the game interesting because there is now a premium on it. The next goal could be the difference and it compels people to stay in their seats and pay close attention. Both teams like to get that next goal while at the same time preventing one in their own end. That makes the players battle harder to generate chances and we all like to see that.
Part of the excitement is also appreciating the sport for what it is. Much as been made about the lack of scoring, no matter what sport you follow. As exciting a 3-run home run by Josh Donaldson is, a complete game performance by Mark Buehrle can be just as interesting to watch. There has been a lot made about soccer (or football for the European readers) and the criticism about the lack of scoring. But the natural pace of soccer is not as quick as hockey and while that may not be everyone’s cup of tea, there are those who seem to be more comfortable with that.
Think you can tell how good a game is by reading the final score in the newspaper? Well, you are a better man or woman than most of us. But I can tell you that making that determination only shows how lazy we as a society have become. The next person who tells me how boring a game it was, I’ll say, “I’ll be the judge of that”.