If you’ve turned on the television or radio in the past two months, chances are you’ve seen or heard commercials for the NBA Playoffs. The chances are likely just as great that you haven’t heard much about the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs, even though the hockey tournament has far blown the basketball’s away with more excitement and equal match ups. In basketball, a team that includes one of the league’s elite superstars will likely reach the NBA Finals.
The series are never really competitive until the end of the playoffs anyways, but they are still built up with hype to be the best of the best in every round. In the NHL, it’s a grind to get the end. The teams who make it the final match up have faced tough competition the entire way there, yet we don’t hear much about the match ups. Basketball is a more popular sport, at least in the United States anyways, but if you’re a fan of competition and like watching games on the edge of your seat, there is no reason to change the channel to anything other than the National Hockey League.
In the NHL, there was only one four-game sweep in the first three rounds of the playoffs. In the NBA, there were four. The NHL saw five series go the full 7 games, including both semi-finals, while the NBA saw just two. There were only two upsets in the entire playoff bracket in basketball, both the 5-seed over the 4-seed, but in the NHL, there were six upsets of higher seeds, including the top seeded St. Louis Blues loosing to the Minnesota Wild in the first round.
This week both championship finals will start with the Golden State Warriors and Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA, and the Tampa Bay Lightning playing the Chicago Blackhawks in the NHL. While both series should offer plenty off exciting storylines, if they both play out as the rest of the post season has, you can bet the NHL playoffs will offer a better game and a more dramatic series.
This Chicago Blackhawks defeated the Anaheim Ducks 4-3 in a Western Conference Finals that was one of the most exciting rounds in recent memory. There were four games decided by one goal and two of them were in overtime. The combined score in this series was 24-22 in favor of Chicago. The Tampa Bay Lighting defeated the New York Rangers 4-3 in their Eastern Conference Finals as well. They may have won one more game then their opponent, but the overall score in the series was tied 21-21. These numbers tell the storyline of just how close and exciting the semi-finals were.
To get to the championship series, the Lighting had to play 20 out of a possible 21 playoff games. They went the full 7 games against the Detroit Red Wings and Rangers, and played 6 against the Montreal Canadians. The Chicago Blackhawks played 17 games, beating the Nashville Predators in 6, Minnesota Wild in 4 and then the Ducks in 7.
Over on the hardwood, the Cleveland Cavaliers flew to the finals, playing just 14 games while the Golden State Warriors played 15. The Cavs swept both the Boston Celtics in the opening round and the Atlanta Hawks in semi-finals. They also took down the Chicago Bulls in 6 games. The Golden State Warriors swept the New Orleans Pelicans, beat the Memphis Grizzlies in 6 and had just a minor hiccup in defeating the Houston Rockets in 5.
LeBron James and company dominated their series against the Hawks, winning all 4 games by an average of 13 points. The Warriors slipped up only once in the Western Conference Series and defeated the Rockets 4-1. Their average margin of victory was 14 points. These games were not competitive on the court or in the box score.
The NBA has long been thought of as a ‘Superstars League’ and this post-season has been no different. In 14 of the Cavaliers’ playoff games, LeBron James was the high scorer. In 12 of the Warriors’ games, Stephen Curry led his team in scoring. This was to no surprise as the league’s last two MVPs are the sports most dynamic scorers. In the regular season, James was 3rd in the league and Curry 6th. In the playoffs, James and Curry are 2nd and 3rdrespectively, trailing just Anthony Davis who played in just four games. In a superstar’s league, the scorers can win playoff series.
On the ice, that is a different story. Tyler Johnson leads not just the Lighting with 21 points, but also tops the entire league. During the regular season, he was tied for just 15th in scoring. The Blackhawks have Patrick Kane leading the charge with 20 post-season points. He is 2nd in the playoffs, but just 28th during the season. These two have played better hockey in the post season then they have all season, but even with their scoring, the team hasn’t just relied on them to win games like in basketball. Patrick Kane may have been consistent in the playoffs, scoring in 14 of 17 games, but only one time all post season has he led the Blackhawks in scoring, Johnson meanwhile did not score or record a point in 8 of his team’s 20 games and in only one contest did he lead the Lighting in scoring. He tied for the team lead 7 times.
The NBA Finals have yet to be competitive, as the higher seed with the more elite superstar moves on to the next round usually without much resistance. The Finals should be different as it’s unlikely either team gets blown off the court in this series, especially considering they should be rested having a week off in between games. The NHL Finals have been brutal for both teams, as they each just finished a slugfest in their conference finals. Getting to this point means they have survived a gauntlet of opposition along the way. The NHL playoffs have more competitive and more exciting than basketball since the post-season started back in April and even though LeBron James and Stephen Curry will dominate news headlines for the next two weeks, it’s the Lighting and Blackhawks that should steal the show.
Follow Pat on Twitter @_PatSullivan_
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