The overtime air was buzzing in game six. Suddenly, the puck slips into the net at an impossible angle, and the only person to see it was the 21-year-old kid who shot it. Nobody else in the Arena knew where the puck went. He goes flying down the ice to celebrate with his goaltender, as that was the shot that won Patrick Kane and his team the Stanley Cup.
Kane scored the goal that every hockey player dreams of scoring. He put the puck past the goaltender in the largest moment of a hockey player’s career: overtime in the Stanley Cup Finals.
The National Hockey League playoffs are the greatest playoffs in sports. I had previously argued why hockey is the greatest sport, and if you followed that airtight conclusion, then it only makes sense that the sport’s playoffs are also the best. But Patrick Kane’s goal to win the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs shows us exactly why this is truly the best event in sports each year.
Sixteen teams are set to play in the playoffs each year. Because the NHL only has 31 teams, you’ve got a chance to win the Cup as long as you’re roughly in the top half of the league (conferences and divisions play a large role in a team’s chances, but that’s neither here nor there). These sixteen teams play until there are only two teams, but it’s not like college basketball’s March Madness.
There are four rounds in the playoffs, and a team has to win four games to advance each round. This means that up to seven games will be played each round, making each win more and more consequential as the games progress. If a game goes into overtime, they play a full 20-minute overtime period, unless somebody scores. If somebody scores, it’s game over. Sudden-death game winning goals are the greatest of all goals, that goal can advance your team to the next round or win them the Stanley Cup.
Hockey is the fastest sport, and just when you think it can’t get any faster, the playoffs blow you away. The speed at which the players move is striking. The passion is even more incredible.
In 2013, Boston Bruins forward Gregory Campbell laid in front of Pittsburgh Penguins forward Evgeni Malkin to block a 90 mph shot, breaking his leg. Because his team was down a man, he finished his shift. A full minute later, he was finally able to get to the bench. His season was finished, but his play led to a win for Boston that night (in double-overtime, no less). You don’t get to see this kind of thing every night, but it shows the lengths to which hockey players will go to win themselves a championship.
This year, the Columbus Blue Jackets play the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round. The Lightning had one of the greatest regular season records of all time, which should mean they are favorites to win the Cup. As I write this, the Blue Jackets, the eighth seed, are up 3-0 in a series against one of the best teams in history. The Washington Capitals were eliminated from the playoffs nine times in a decade before winning it all last year.
This is what playoff hockey is about: major upsets, broken bones and championship-winning goals. If you have yet to watch a playoff hockey game, I recommend you start watching.
Scott Rainey is a columnist. Contact him at [email protected]