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Posted: Tuesday May 02, 2000 05:13 PM
Lord Stanley Rules
Why the NHL's postseason is the best in all of sports
By Kostya Kennedy
The Circus on ice that is the NHL playoffs may not be the greatest show on earth, but it makes other sports' postseasons seem tame. Why?
Because hockey fans, more than those of any other sport, must brace themselves for the unexpected. This year the eighth-seeded Sharks toppled the top-seeded Blues in the Western Conference, while the seventh-seeded Penguins knocked off the No. 2 Capitals in the East. St. Louis's early exit wasn't novel. Last year No. 8 Pittsburgh beat the No. 1 Devils, and the seventh-seeded Sabres skated all the way to the finals. In baseball you pencil in the Braves for the World Series each spring and write the Yankees in with a pen.
Because teams earn their upsets in the NHL, the only major sport in which every round is best of seven. There are none of those get-lucky five-game series found in the NBA's or baseball's first round. Upsets don't exist in the NFL. One game? Please.
Because players sport what Bruins coach Pat Burns lovingly calls "a playoff face." In the NFL that means a linebacker's wild-eyed stare; in baseball it means a pitcher's glare; in the NBA it means a flapping tongue. In the NHL a playoff face comes swollen, flecked with shades of purple and missing a few teeth.
Because hockey opponents despise each other. "We hate them," Red Wings forward Pat Verbeek snarls of any rival. This is a compliment. "We like to be hated," says Sharks forward Mike Ricci.
Because many players are so superstitious, they don't shave during the playoffs.
Because in Canada, NHL playoff games arrest the nation the way the World Series used to take over Brooklyn in the 1950s.
Because you have Czechs, Finns, North Americans, Russians, Slovaks and Swedes all battling to become champions of Canada's game.
Because the playoffs have taught us names like Jagr, Nieuwendyk and Yzerman, and because we can scream for a guy named Yelle and stomp for a guy named Foote.
Because goals come in an eye blink and one or two can win a game, which means you should get a discount on your seat since you only use the edge of it.
Because after knocking one another's heads into Plexiglas for an entire series, the bearded, toothless, sworn enemies line up and shake hands.
Because of the Stanley Cup, the world's most storied, most anthropomorphized trophy. Each member of the championship team gets a day to drink lager out of Stanley and snuggle up beside him. Players have been taking such turns with the Cup for better than 100 years, each reaping his own reward for surviving the NHL playoffs, which on final thought may indeed be the greatest show on earth.
Issue date: May 8, 2000
For more Scorecard see this week's issue of Sports Illustrated, on newsstands Wednesday, May 3. Click here to subscribe to SI.
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