The Stanley Cup Playoffs are always the best playoff tournament in any of the major sports. Obviously you’re not coming to this site to hear that point debated. This year has been no exception, as both rounds one and two have featured multiple seven-game series, as they almost always do. However, 2014 has seen round three deliver for the first time in quite a while.
You see, at least in my opinion, the conference finals have been a little lacking in the NHL since the lockout. The 13 games contested between the Kings and Blackhawks and the Rangers and Canadiens will be the most in round three since 2004. The conference final round went to 13 games or the maximum 14 three times in the five seasons leading up to the lockout, but this is the first time we’ve gotten it in 10 years.
Not only that, but I am making the case that the Kings and Blackhawks — in their second consecutive conference final duel — are playing the best conference final since the year we missed, regardless of what happens in Game 7. The quality of hockey has been just sublime, every other night a three-hour advertisement for what this sport can be at its best (you don’t hear anyone clamoring for an Olympic tournament right around now, do you?).
Games 5 and 6 have been the best hockey games — NHL or Olympic — played on any sheets of ice this season. Between Game 5’s insanely paced overtime (featuring 20 minutes of game time played in 26 minutes) and Game 6’s tet-a-tet of “anything you can do, I can do better” between talents no less than Drew Doughty and patrick Kane. That Game 6 may have been better than Game 5 would have been unthinkable late on Wednesday, but I think they did it.
Frankly, while the Rangers-Canadiens series — with all it’s extracurricular drama — was fun, Kings-Blackhawks II has been an argument for a 1-16 playoff seeding. Imagine a Stanley Cup Final between these two teams? These two managed to make even a five-game series a year ago intense. Now they’re going to a seventh on a Sunday night in Chicago, playing perhaps the best hockey series in a decade.
This is with all due respect to some of the great conference finals of the post-lockout era. I’d certainly listen to arguments for Boston and a surprise Tampa squad’s seven-gamer in 2011, or even the three overtimes between an on-the-rise Chicago team and Detroit in 2009. Hell, even the war of attrition between an increasingly depleted Sabres team who’d been looking like a team of destiny and a stacked Carolina club in seven in 2006.
That said, the skill and intensity and all-out amazement of this Kings-Blackhawks sequel has been too much to deny. It’s already the best series of recent vintage. A legendary Game 7 will get it talked about among the great playoff battles in the history of the sport.