Tuesday, June 03, 2008

The Stanley Cup Playoffs

I love the game of basketball.

I played basketball for thousands of hours when I was a kid, and there were summers when I played at least three or four hours a day. I could play, even though I was a skinny as a stick figure.

I grew up around basketball. I have a deep affection for the game, and it's in my blood.

Then why do I spend most of my time watching the NHL playoffs each year?

I can't skate. I grew up in the place where the temperature was rarely below freezing. The only ice I saw was in cube form.

Every year, though, I'm riveted by the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Last night, I watched one of the best games I've seen in 20 years. In game five of the Red Wings-Penguin series, every second was tinged with desperation, and the pace was frantic. The action was so furious that there were times when it was hard to even catch my breath.

The Penguins scored with 34 seconds left in regulation to tie the game, and then won it in triple overtime. It was exhausting and exhilarating and brilliant, and it was a feeling I never, ever have while watching the NBA.

It's not the players. The NBA is full of great athletes, and most of them are intelligent and likable. The "thug league" days of the mid-90s are long gone.

Television, though, has destroyed the NBA as an entertainment product, at least for me. The last five minutes of the game will take 20 minutes in real time. There will be four or five timeouts, at least. There will be innumerable commercials. There is absolutely no way in hell that any drama can build.

The NHL? Commercial breaks are infrequent during regulation time, and there are no commercial breaks in overtime. Stoppages of play aren't very frequent, either, and the pace and intensity at which the game is played, particularly in the playoffs, is stunning.

Slack time? Almost none. Timeouts? One per team. That's one per team per game.

Combine all this, and you have a viewing experience where the tension ratchets up and up over the course of 2 1/2 hours. In the last period, it's almost unbearable--in a good way.

If you saw the third period last night, you know exactly what I mean.

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