With Jonathan Toews and the Blackhawks eliminated, we begin our quest to find out who the next captain to hoist the Stanley Cup will be. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images)
We're obviously all big fans of NCAA basketball here, and as such, big fans of the NCAA Tournament. Here at Anonymous Eagle, we even referred to the opening weekend of the tournament as Basketball Christmas. So I'll openly admit that it takes a lot to be more awesome than Basketball Christmas. I submit to you that the NHL Playoffs are capable of that much awesome.
1) Sudden Death Overtime. With 2 games yet to be played in the first round of the 2011 NHL Playoffs, we've already seen 16 periods of overtime hockey. The NHL always plays by sudden death overtime rules, but it changes from 5 minutes of 4 on 4 to try to decide a winner before a shootout in the regular season to full 20 minute periods of 5 on 5 hockey until a winner is decided on the ice. This gives us the most dramatic scenario in sports, where every shot can end the game, where every reflex reaction can cause either jubilation or demoralization. The stakes are raised even further when that overtime takes place in an elimination game, as we just saw in consecutive games between the Blackhawks and the Canucks. The only thing that can raise the drama of an overtime NHL playoff game is when it's overtime for....
2) Game 7. Other sports have series that create Game 7 scenarios. None compare to the NHL. The physical demands required to play hockey are significantly greater than other championship series sports. When you combine that with familiarity with your opponent over the last 6 games, building bad blood between opponents across 6 games, and the finality of removing the safety net of the next game, you truly see the sports cliche of players giving everything they have. Already this playoffs we've had 2 game 7s, both last night. Tonight we get two more, between the Montreal Canadiens and the Boston Bruins, and between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Two matchups rich with history with 33 Stanley Cups won between the 4 teams, with at least 1 win by each team. Which brings us to our next point....
3) History and tradition. No sport truly embraces its past quite like the NHL, and rightly so. They are the only major North American sport that hands out LITERALLY the exact same trophy to the champion every year. Each player who was on the roster of each champion has his name permanently engraved into the Stanley Cup for future generations to see. I mean, they're actually having a "Best historical moment" tournament on their website, and honestly, I'm glad I wasn't part of the committee to decide which 64 actually made the list. On top of that, the NHL has made "History Will Be Made" their marketing campaign for the second straight season, which has led to another pile of fantastic videos, after last year's pile of fantastic videos.
All in all, the NHL playoffs are the best championship tournament in sports. At the end, we will see the captain of the winning team raise the Stanley Cup as we have so many times before, and grown men will be unable to put into words what winning this championship means to them. There is nothing like it.
Week 1: Sarcastic Voyage
Week 2: Kissing Suzy Kolber