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The Ridiculous NHL Playoffs Just Got More Ridiculous

Wednesday, May 11, 2011, 11:41 EDT Leave a comment Go to comments

Stanley Cup bracketThere’s nothing like discussion of professional sports playoff formats to make me cranky. Take the NHL playoffs, currently finishing round two. It’s bad enough that more than half of all NHL teams play in the postseason. That’s right, of 30 teams in the league, 16 get spots in the Stanley Cup playoffs, meaning that it’s actually harder not to make the playoffs than to make them. And that’s after everyone has already played an 82-game regular season schedule, which ends in April. By the time the Stanley Cup is hoisted high above the victors’ heads, it will be June. For ice hockey. It’s a system matched in absurdity by only the NBA.

Now we find out, several days after the Bruins dispatched the Flyers in a second round sweep, thus atoning for last year’s grievous sin, that the Eastern Conference final between Boston and Tampa Bay will begin on Saturday evening. In what other sport do fans not know well in advance when the Conference or League championship series—the semi-final for the big prize, essentially—is going to start? It isn’t like they move to the next round as soon as they know the matchup; if that were the case, we could have begun the Eastern Conference series, say, this past Sunday, two and four days after the Bruins and Lightning, respectively, completed their sweeps. Say what you will about Major League Baseball and the NFL, but at least they set the dates and times of those important events beforehand, so those of us who are so inclined can plan our lives accordingly. Not that I really expected the B’s to make it this far or fully believe they can go farther, if we’re being entirely honest here.

Another thing I can’t stand is the 2-2-1-1-1 home ice format. That’s a lot of unnecessary travel between the two contenders’ cities, and at this stage of the game, it isn’t a bus ride or a short hop by air. By the time you get to the finals, it could potentially be a nightmare. Last year’s Philadelphia-to-Chicago trip wasn’t a bad one, but picture Boston-to-San Jose. Ugh.

And what’s with this 8:00 p.m. face-off nonsense? These are East Coast teams playing in the Eastern time zone. Isn’t 7:00 more sensible? Even 7:30, to maximize prime time advertising dollars, would be preferable, giving all interested parties time to get home from work, grab some supper, and settle into a favorite chair for the evening. It isn’t like people in California will be rushing home from work to catch the series. They will have their own series to watch, presuming San Jose can avoid completing an epic collapse tomorrow night. And if the Sharks blow it, well, I doubt their fans will be in the mood to watch any more hockey for several months.

Which brings me to another point. If Detroit beats San Jose, Vancouver will be the only team in the Conference finals to have avoided defeat at the hands of a higher seed. At first glance, that might make them the easy favorite to go all the way, but you can’t discount the momentum and confidence that comes from just having beaten a team that was supposed to win. Not only will that describe the Red Wings if they pull it out tomorrow night, but it also describes the eventual Eastern Conference champ.

Hmmm. Now that I think about it, perhaps we Bruins fans have reason to be more optimistic than I’ve been so far. Our guys are feeling pretty good about themselves, they have plenty of time to prepare and recharge, and they have home ice advantage.

Suddenly, I feel some of that crankiness slipping away.

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