OVERTIME: North America’s best playoffs begin tonight

BY KYLE BEERY | SPORTS EDITOR | kbeery@butler.edu

Indiana has its stamp on the sport of basketball with the 1954 Milan state championship and its connection to the movie “Hoosiers.” Butler University has its connection with Tony Hinkle’s creation of the orange basketball, and of course a couple of magical runs to the National Championship game.

Football also has a little claim to fame in this state with the professional emergence and dominance of Peyton Manning and a powerhouse up north called Notre Dame.

Indiana can even hang its baseball hat on the likes of Michigan City native Don Larsen (Hall-of-Famer and only pitcher to throw perfect game in World Series history) and Evansville native Don Mattingly (current manager of the Los Angeles Dodgers). Butler’s biggest claims to baseball fame are Houston Astros pitcher Pat Neshek and Dan Johnson, who hit a game-tying home run for the Tampa Bay Rays against the New York Yankees on the greatest day in the history of baseball.

But what about hockey? Well, one of the only deep connections to the sport is Mike “Doc” Emrick, the play-by-play voice of the sport and native of La Fontaine, Indiana.

And now that March Madness is over, the NFL Draft still a few weeks away and the baseball season still in its infancy, sports fans at Butler should take the opportunity to relish in the great voice of this Hoosier. Not even just in Doc’s great calls, but in the sport itself, as the Stanley Cup Playoffs begin tonight.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are the best postseason in any of North America’s “Big Four” sports leagues. And as the NHL is in a state of fluctuation with its popularity, our generation should do itself a favor and get into the sport.

NHL POPULARITY

A Harris Interactive Poll taken in 2014 showed that just 6 percent of adults 18 years and older consider hockey to be their favorite sport, ranking tied for fifth behind professional football (32 percent claim it as their favorite sport), baseball, college football and auto racing.

That probably comes as a shock to many hockey fans who know and love the game. It may come as a shock in the sense that the Stanley Cup Playoffs have provided so much excitement over the years.

 

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An annotated picture of the Stanley Cup, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

 The Stanley Cup dates all the way back to 1892 and has been the running trophy awarded to the NHL champions since 1927. You have stories and legends such as the Original Six, the Montreal Canadiens’ 24 Cup titles, Bobby Orr going horizontal after winning the Cup in 1970 and the Great One himself — Wayne Gretzky.

In more recent years, there is the Boston Bruins’ incredible comeback in 2013 in the shadow of the Boston Marathon Bombing tragedy. There is the Chicago Blackhawks scoring two goals in 17 seconds to avoid a game seven and win the 2013 cup.

And there is the great back-to-back series between the Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburgh Penguins in 2008 in 2009.

This list of great moments and enchanting things about hockey goes on and on. Granted, each sport has its own list, but there is just something about hockey that seems too great to go so unnoticed by so much of America.

Parity and upsets in the NHL

Maybe it is the fact that the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the most likely of any of the Big Four to see an upset. The 2014 playoffs saw nine upsets, with six of them considered major upsets with a two- or more seed differential.

The 2014 NBA playoffs, on the other hand saw just four series upsets, with only one of them a seed differential greater than two.

The Los Angeles Kings were an effective No. 6 seed when they beat the No. 5 seed New York Rangers in the 2014 Stanley Cup Finals. Meanwhile, the San Antonio Spurs were the No. 1 seed when they beat the No. 2 seed Miami Heat last June in the NBA Finals.

Granted, the Kansas City Royals made quite the Cinderella run last October, and they fell to the NL wild card San Francisco Giants in a heck of a World Series.

But to make a point of the NHL’s parity, in the last 10 years, just three No. 1 seeds have made the Stanley Cup Finals, and only two of them have won it all.

During that stretch, seven teams seeded fourth or lower have made the finals, and twice have they won it. And this year could show more of the same. Even with the new divisional-based playoffs taking over for the traditional conference-based playoffs, there are several lower seeded teams that could make a run at Lord Stanley’s cup.

The Calgary Flames have the fewest points on the season of any of the 16 playoff teams, and they are arguably considered favorites in their first round series against Vancouver. The Ottawa Senators are in the same boat against the Atlantic Division champion Montreal Canadiens, having picked up 28 points in their final 17 games to head into the playoffs as the league’s hottest team.

Aside from the excitement of underdogs — after all, Butler fans can relate to that — in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the sheer amount of talent on the ice is mesmerizing. Not only are the players deking, shooting and scoring, they are doing it on a three-sixteenths-inch wide piece of metal. It is downright incredible.

So this spring, take a gander at the living legends of Pavel Datsyuk, Sidney Crosby, Martin St. Louis and the Sedin brothers weaving their way in and out of defenders, putting up goal after goal. But also be sure to let youngsters such as Gustav Nyquist, Steven Stamkos, Alex Pietrangelo and Jonas Brodin amaze you as they try to leave their first stamps on their young and promising NHL careers.

I am not asking you to forget the fact that Indiana is a basketball state. It always will be. After all, Indianapolis just hosted one of the best Final Fours in a long time that saw Indiana University’s 1976 Bobby Knight-led team hold on to the title of the last team to complete an undefeated season.

I am just encouraging you to take witness to one of the greatest spectacles in all of sports. And this year has all the makings to go down as another legendary spring.

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