Stanley Cup playoffs

It’s exciting, competitive, gruesome, dramatic and even a bit electrifying, but the best word to describe the NHL playoffs may be mysterious.

It’s exciting, competitive, gruesome, dramatic and even a bit electrifying, but the best word to describe the NHL playoffs may be mysterious. This year’s Stanley Cup playoffs have proven to include all of the ingredients American sports fans salivate over. But, with the NBA playoffs all but underway, the NFL draft hype ballooning and MLB finally heating up, most fans find the NHL playoffs just another dull distraction. But this season the fans are wrong.

The first bit of noteworthy information about the Stanley Cup playoffs is each and every player has the same mentality-win at all costs. No NHL player is going to spout off about how he is just playing for the money and fame or lazily skate down the ice like an NBA player making his way down court. That doesn’t even factor into a true hockey player’s psyche. The only motive on every player’s mind is hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup at the conclusion of the playoffs, making hockey possibly America’s purest sport.

This season’s Stanley Cup playoffs have illustrated that despite the transition from ESPN to lowly networks like VERSUS and OLN, hockey is far from a dying sport. Even after the treacherous 310-day lockout in 2004-2005, hockey is still a compelling and exciting brand of sport. It’s like a delicious entr퀌�e containing every ingredient sports aficionados absolutely love.

Ingredient one–the upset

It is widely known that Americans tune in for the upset. Why is the NCAA men’s basketball tournament always such an enormous draw? Easy, it’s the possibility of an underdog making a run deep into tourney, like mid-major George Mason advancing to the Final Four two years ago.

Thus far, there has been one upset in the Stanley Cup playoffs, but rest assured there are a couple more in the making. Led by Jaromir Jagr’s two goals and five assists and goalie Henrik Lundqvist’s excellent play between the pipes, the sixth-seeded New York Rangers made quick work of third-seeded Atlanta, sweeping the Thrashers in four games. The Rangers closed out the series in the confines of Madison Square Garden, earning their first home playoff victory since 1997 and first playoff sweep in 13 years.

The other two potential upsets are still laying it on the ice. The second-seeded New Jersey Devils barely squeaked by Wednesday night, capping off a sensational overtime matchup with a game-winning goal by center Scott Gomez to trounce the Tampa Bay Lightning. With the win, the Devils bring the series even at two games a piece. The San Jose Sharks also lead their battle of the fourth- and fifth-seeded squads over the Nashville Predators, assuming a 3-2 series lead with a victory at the Shark Tank Wednesday night.

Ingredient two–the superstar

The number of superstar athletes and marketable figures measures success in every sports league. During the late ’80s, the NBA experienced a substantial spike in both ratings and popularity. By no coincidence this was the period where players like Earvin “Magic” Johnson, Larry Bird, Isaiah Thomas, Clyde Drexler and Michael Jordan called the hardwood their playground.

While the days of Wayne Gretzky and Gordy Howe gracing the ice are over, the NHL has ushered in a new crop of rising superstars. The most prominent name in the sport is undisputedly Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby.

At the ripe old age of 19, Crosby has rejuvenated the sport with a litany of mesmerizing play, compiling a highlight reel worthy of Gretzky-like attention. He is among the league leaders in all scoring categories, nearly winning hockey’s version of the triple-crown for goals scored with 26, assists at 84 and total points with 120. Crosby’s Penguins are currently losing their battle versus Ottawa in the playoffs’ first round, 3-1.

Another youngster giving Crosby a run for his money as the NHL’s best young stud is Washington Capitals left-winger Alex Ovechkin. The Moscow native is 22 years old and was honored as the best rookie last season, winning the Calder Memorial Trophy with 124 of a possible 129 votes. Ovechkin was also named to the First All-Star team as a rookie, the first to accomplish the feat since Teemu Selanne in 1992-93. This season Ovechkin trumped Crosby in the goals scored department, smacking the puck into the back of the net on 46 occasions.

The future is bright for the NHL, with up-and-coming stars like Crosby and Ovechkin mixing with established veterans like Jagr, Sharks center Joe Thornton, Lightning center Vincent Lecavalier, Senators right-winger Dany Heatley, Avalanche center Joe Sakic, Thrashers right-winger Marian Hossa and many others.

Ingredient three–the favorites

Any sports fan will agree the underdog is ideal, and many others will boost that rooting for a favorite best. This season’s Stanley Cup playoffs are chock-full of spectacular teams that have been contending for several years.

Both number-one seeds, the Buffalo Sabres in the East and Detroit Red Wings out West, are definite favorites to hoist the silver cup at the conclusion of the playoffs. Buffalo leads the New York Islanders 3-1 after four games, looking to advance deep into the playoffs behind a stellar defense and goalie Ryan Miller in front of the net. All one needs to know about the Red Wings’ prospects for claiming the title is that Detroit’s nickname is “Hockey Town U.S.A.” The team that has won the trophy 10 times in its history is currently mired in an old-fashioned dogfight with the underdog Calgary Flames. After taking the first two contests, Detroit was defeated by an offensive onslaught to bring the series to 2-1.

The Anaheim Ducks have appeared mighty both in the regular season and thus far in the playoffs. Earning the second seed in the Western Conference with 110 points, the Ducks have absolutely manhandled the Minnesota Wild in their quarterfinal series. Behind goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere, Anaheim only allowed a total of four goals in the series’ first three games, which were all wins for the Ducks.

Put all these ingredients together and you have a fantastic delicacy just waiting to be tasted. If you think that hockey has gone the way of the dodo, you’re terribly mistaken.