There has been a lot of talk about how the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Golden State Warriors have been dominating their opponents in this year’s NBA playoffs. So-called basketball fans and media have long cheered for the Cavaliers and the Warriors to battle it out for the NBA title.
The Toronto Raptors made things interesting last year when their Eastern Conference Final series with Cleveland was even after the first four games. That produced excitement for us fans here in “The Six” but it caused quite a shock to the rest of the United States. Dare I say more shocking than Donald Trump winning the US Presidential election. As great as it would have been to see the Raptors in the finals, there are those who got their wish and saw Golden State and Cleveland battle it out for the championship. And by the looks of it, it will happen again for the third straight year.
This year’s NBA playoffs has been predictable. Unless you live in Cleveland or in the Bay Area, there hasn’t been much excitement. Even Charles Barkley doesn’t seem interested in what’s happening in the NBA Eastern Conference Final.
Compare that the Stanley Cup Playoffs where it has been unpredictable and exciting. Most of the excitement is coming from teams like the Nashville Predators, an 8th-seeded team in the Western Conference who will be making their first ever appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals. How can you not like what is happening with the Predators? They have taken Music City by storm and it’s not just because team captain Mike Fisher’s wife is a famous musician. The Predators are making the Ottawa Senators look like the Florida Panthers when it comes to fan base.
Standing in the way of bringing Lord Stanley to the Volunteer State are the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins are the only team left in the playoffs with a true superstar player, or in this case two, in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Which buries the theory that you need one to be a championship contender. Alexander Ovechkin, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Connor McDavid, Carey Price, Steven Stamkos, they are all watching the playoffs from home. Add to that, top teams like Chicago, Montreal, Washington, and last year’s finalist San Jose were eliminated early.
There is also the fact that five of the seven Canadian teams made the playoffs this year, a year after there were none. The return of the Toronto Maple Leafs to the playoffs certainly helped even though they were not able to get by the Capitals in the first round. The Senators, perhaps, went further in the playoffs than anyone would have expected. Erik Karlsson is one of the best defenseman in the game and he is showing us why in the playoffs. Had Ottawa made it to the final, it would have been an interesting storyline with one-time Senator fan favourite Fisher facing his old team for the Cup. The Penguins and Predators have their own storyline in the finals. The two teams at one time were considered being sold to a Canadian tech billionaire. Jim Balsillie wanted another team in the Southern Ontario market but nearly ran his successful smartphone company into the ground in order to do it.
Sure, playoff hockey isn’t without its flaws. The Senators still are able to employ the neutral zone trap. But until there are rules in place to outlaw it, defensive hockey is still the way to go in the playoffs. Another is, you guessed it, the lack of fighting in hockey. There’s been some animosity in the playoffs but very few resulting in the drop of the gloves. The Gary-Bettman-doesn’t-want-a-Canadian-team-to-win-the-Stanley-Cup mantra is growing old but there are folks who still cling to it like those in the southern United States who many say still cling to the confederate flag. But despite all that, the Stanley Cup Playoffs remains compelling because of its unpredictability.
The NBA can have all the superstar power they want. I’ll take the blue-collar attitude that comes with playoff hockey. It is by far the best playoff action anywhere.