April is usually one of the most exciting months of the sports calendar. The beginning of the MLB season, the NFL Draft, the start of the NBA Playoffs, the Masters and so much more. But, year in, year out, nothing grabs my attention more than the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Yes, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are my favorite sporting event of the year. Scratch that, as a diehard hockey fan, the Stanley Cup Playoffs are both my least favorite and favorite sporting event of the year.
I love it because, to me, it is the greatest thrill ride in American sports. The intense euphoria I felt last year when my favorite team, the San Jose Sharks, came back from down 3-0 in the third period against the Vegas Golden Knights in Game 7 of the first round and won 5-4 in overtime after being down 3-1 in the series was unlike anything I’ve felt from sports before. My doctor shouldn’t be allowed to know what my blood pressure is like whenever I’m watching a Sharks playoff game.
My Sharks fandom is also the reason why the Stanley Cup Playoffs is the absolute worst sporting event of the year. While the highs of climbing the mountain and enduring one of the hardest marathons in sports must feel incredible, the lows are miserable. I barely watched the Stanley Cup Finals last year after the St. Louis Blues knocked out San Jose in the conference finals because I just couldn’t stomach watching hockey for a while.
I could write a dissertation on why watching Sharks playoff hockey has probably taken years off my life and made April and May the worst months of the year, but I would be lying if I said that wasn’t part of the fun.
Maybe it’s because I root for the football team that is owned by Dan Snyder, but a wild-card round loss in the NFL doesn’t feel as heartbreaking as a first-round elimination in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Losses in other sports just don’t make me feel like the world is going to end quite like another exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Maybe it’s because in most other leagues, plenty of teams have a snowball’s chance in hell of winning a championship. Good luck winning the Super Bowl or an NBA championship without being one of the top two teams in your conference.
However, in the NHL, it is anyone’s game come April, regular season be damned. Last year, all four division winners were bounced in the first round for the first time in NHL history, including the Columbus Blue Jackets’ sweep of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the best regular-season team since the NHL instituted the salary cap in 2005. Hell, an expansion team, the Golden Knights, made the finals in its first year of existence in 2018.
Maybe it’s the idea that anyone can win it all that lets me put up with annual failure and keeps me coming back year after year. The Sharks haven’t even won their division since 2011, yet I keep telling myself most years that there’s a realistic path for them to win the Stanley Cup, like when they finally made the finals in 2016 for the first time in franchise history despite finishing third in the Pacific Division.
I was already going to miss playoff hockey in a way before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, as the Sharks were certainly going to miss the playoffs for only the second time since 2005. But, I still miss playoff hockey dearly.
I miss the roar of the crowd after a goal to take the lead late in the third period. I miss feeling like I’m going to throw up during sudden-death overtime in a Game 7. I miss the intensity of a battle in the corner with under a minute left in the third period. I miss the Chewbacca-esque playoff beards. I miss the horrible attempts at Chewbacca-esque playoff beards from 20-year-olds who can’t grow facial hair.
Hockey has been the sport that has meant the most to me as long as I can remember. To not have the best the sport can offer like every other year has been brutal.
As a Sharks fan, I’ve gotten used to saying “There’s always next year.” It’s a motto I’ve used for 15 years of mostly heartbreaking playoff failure.
But I never thought I would be saying it about the playoffs as a whole.
Follow Brendan on Twitter @Bfarrell727 and contact him at [email protected].