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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Hockey's Intensity Makes Playoffs Worth Watching

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Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan
Kevin Noonan has covered and commented on the Delaware sports scene for more than 30 years, everything from amateur recreation leagues and high schools to local colleges and the Philadelphia professional teams. He’s been voted Delaware Sportswriter of the Year multiple times and currently covers the Philadelphia Eagles for CBSSports.com and teaches creative writing courses at Wilmington University.

We have no idea how the Flyers will fare in the NHL playoffs, mainly because we’re not sure which Flyers team will show up on a nightly basis. Sometimes this team is very good and sometimes it’s just average, and that’s not usually how a true Stanley Cup contender plays when it counts the most.

However, we’ll be watching no matter how long the Flyers survive in the postseason and we’re not even rabid hockey fans. But we also realize that, with the exception of the NFL, the NHL has the most intense and most interesting playoffs in professional sports. And you don’t have to be a hockey nut to appreciate the emotion and effort that goes into each shift during the playoffs.

The NFL has a huge advantage when it comes to drama – pro football has a one-and-done playoff format and that means every game is critical because every game can be the last game. Teams in other pro sports, which play five- or seven-game series, can have a bad night or even an awful night and still survive and even thrive. In football, one bad playoff game can make meaningless an entire great regular season, as the Denver Broncos found out this past year.

That longer playoff format often makes basketball and baseball playoffs boring, or at least you don’t go out of your way to watch them unless it’s a Game 7 or there aren’t any good John Wayne movies on TCM. So I can miss Game 3 of the Heat-Bobcats series because I know there will be other games that are more meaningful and I’ll have more chances to watch LeBron James.

But hockey is intense all the time. That’s the nature of the sport anyhow, where players are on the ice for short shifts and are expected to go 100 percent the entire time. But the NHL playoffs are special because each goal is important and there aren’t a lot of them in postseason hockey. Playoff teams – in other words, good teams – are usually solid on defense and in the crease and that usually makes for low-scoring and close games. And that, of course, makes for great theater.

In all sports, the best action happens late, whether it’s the fourth quarter, the ninth inning or the third period. Still, there’s something especially electric about a hockey playoff game that’s tied 1-1 late in the third period and everyone knows the next goal will probably be the winning goal. And, of course, the voltage increases dramatically when the game goes into overtime and everyone knows the next goal will be the last goal. Sometimes that electricity can last the entire extra period and you know something is special if it can be maintained for 20 minutes.

Also, there’s no crowd quite like an NHL playoff crowd. Hockey fans tend to be more rambunctious than baseball or basketball fans and they’re a lot closer to the action than football fans. When you add that rabid fan base to a fast-paced, hard-hitting sport like hockey, well, it’s a volatile combination that’s guaranteed to produce fireworks.

It’s also a lot of fun. Of course, it will be a lot more fun if the Flyers go deep into the playoffs, but that’s one thing we can’t guarantee.

Contact Kevin Noonan at knoonan32@aol.com.

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