Why do the NHL playoffs rule? Facial hair and ice, of course

Tom Gallick

When it comes right down to it, hockey and basketball are pretty similar. Two teams play offense and defense to try to get either a ball or puck in a net for points.

So what variable makes the NHL playoffs – and hockey in general- more fun than the NBA playoffs? Ice.

Ice makes anything more fun.

And if you don’t believe me, go ask your little siblings if they would rather watch a DVD of “Aladdin” or “Disney on Ice.” Just don’t be surprised when you’re sitting in an ice arena watching a guy dressed as Goofy doing a triple axel.

Beyond the obvious point that ice equals excitement, the NHL playoffs trump postseason basketball thanks to the unpredictability factor. Going into the NBA playoffs, anyone who watched two games all year can probably predict who will play for the championship trophy.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, picked against the Celtics and Lakers last season. They were the two best teams all season, plus their renewed rivalry would be good for the league (cough).

On the other hand, in the screwy-but-entertaining NHL playoffs, any team with a streaky goalie can make it all the way to the finals. Nobody predicted that Cam Ward would lead the Carolina Hurricanes to the championship in the 2005-2006 season (and not just because the thought of a team in Carolina made every hockey fan shudder), but that’s part of the fun.

On the plus side for basketball, LeBron James was the big story this year, so expect him to drag the Cavs along to the NBA Finals against the Lakers and suck any drama or surprise out of the proceedings.

The first rounds of the hockey playoffs are generally contentious, unlike basketball. The team with the most points in the regular season, San Jose, is in serious trouble, down 2-0 in a series against Anaheim.

No one in the hockey world is really even shocked by this development, while every basketball analyst freaked out in 2007 when the No. 8-seeded Golden State Warriors bested the top-ranked Dallas Mavericks in the first round.

My feeling is the No. 1-seeded Cavaliers and Lakers are probably pretty safe this season.

Hockey is also unmatched in the area of playoff traditions. The superstitious practice of growing a playoff beard is one of the best in the history of the sport and has even spread to other leagues.

The best playoff tradition in the NBA playoffs: one of the Van Gundy brothers repeatedly freaking out.

And another thing – the basketball playoffs are on TNT while the NHL has a sweetheart deal with Versus, so they’re like your little secret if you actually get Versus.

If I had to boil it down to one solid reason though, I have to return to my original argument: ice. It’s slippery, it looks cool and there’s always the chance someone could fall.

Put LeBron James on some ice skates and have him salchow into a slam dunk, and then the NBA playoffs will pass the NHL playoffs in excitement.

Until that day, I’ll look to the ice for my springtime sports entertainment.

Contact assistant sports editor Thomas Gallick at [email protected].