If Americans weren't so set in their ways, I would say this has been a transformational spring for two professional sports leagues. For a third straight year in a row, the NBA Playoffs have been practically pre-ordained--as the Golden State Warriors and the Cleveland Cavaliers have lost a combined one game in three series to win their conference championships. Not only were the series blowouts, but nearly every game in those series were lopsided--as were many games in the other series as well.
That stands in stark contrast to what has been another compelling NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs--which has seen nearly 30-overtime games--and a number of other contests decided by late goals. The Cup Final combatants, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators were not the top seeds in their conferences. In fact, Nashville was the number 8 seed in the West (yes, Nashville is "west" in the world of hockey). In the NBA, just one 8-seed has ever won a playoff series--and has never made it to the Finals.
Last night was a perfect microcosm of two sports heading in opposite directions. Cleveland blew out a lethargic Boston Celtics team that looked like they did not expect to win and played like it from the opening tip. Meanwhile in Pittsburgh, the Pens and the Ottawa Senators played with a desperation and intensity befitting an elimination game. Go-ahead goals by Pittsburgh in the 2nd and 3rd periods were met with quick responses from the Sens--as neither team had a chance to relax with a lead for long. And then, the game went to double overtime--before the Penguins punched their tickets to the Final with a sudden death goal. It was a game that left you emotionally drained from all the near misses and wild scrambles in front of the goal.
Of course, ratings for the NBA Finals will crush those of the Stanley Cup Final. What's left of NBA fans are getting what they want, the rubber match of the LeBron versus Steph Curry trilogy (although given the lack of competitive balance in the NBA, it may be the third of 5 or 6 consecutive matchups)--and given the number of ads those two are part of, casual fans will be sure to tune in as well. Not wanting to end their playoffs too soon--Game One won't be until June 1st.
Meanwhile, Pittsburgh and Nashville will likely decide possession of The Cup in relative anonymity. Nashville is not exactly a city rich in hockey history--and is best known for having "Mr Carrie Underwood"--Mike Fisher--as its captain. At least we will only have to wait until Monday for that series to start. And because NBC has some new dance competition show this summer, a couple of the games will be pushed to the lesser-watched NBC Sports Network (check your local listings for channel numbers).
So over the next couple of weeks, don't be afraid to break out of your comfort zone and check out the hard-fought Stanley Cup Final--rather than seven NBA Finals games with serious competition in just the final few minutes each night.