As the first round of the NBA and NHL Playoffs come to a close, sports fans everywhere are still left catching their breath, stunned at what an amazing opening round of playoffs it was for both leagues. But which sport had the better first round?
The Late Game Heroics
The NBA and NHL have both seen their fair share of late-game heroics in their first rounds. In the NBA, they saw Vince Carter (DAL) sink the Spurs from the corner, saw Troy Daniels (HOU) drain an overtime game-winner in a must-win Game Three and saw Damian Lillard (POR), with just .09 seconds remaining, hit an improbable three-pointer for the series win. But not all of the heroics were for the win. Some were for the tie- like Kendrick Perkins’ (OKC) put-back layup as time expired or Damian Lillard’s (again) three-pointer, to go with a tip from Lamarcus Aldridge, to send Game One into overtime. Some were also for the dagger- like Paul Pierce’s big shot in Game One on the road against the Raptors.
As if that was not enough late-game heroics for fans, they could have also just flipped over to the NHL playoffs. In their opening round, the Colorado Avalanche twice tied the game in the final two minutes with an empty net behind them in order to force overtime (eventually winning both). In the St. Louis Blues/Chicago Blackhawks series, the clutch-ness continued. In the first two games alone, the St. Louis Blues tied the game up with just under two minutes left in Game One, and with only seven seconds left in Game Two to force overtime (to which they won both). In the Anaheim Ducks/Dallas Stars series, the Stars were inevitably sunk in overtime after giving up a game-tying goal to Devante Smith-Pelly with just 24-seconds left to play. In the Montreal Canadiens/Tampa Bay Lightning series, Max Pacioretty wristed in his first-career playoff goal and game-winner with just 43 seconds left in the game to send the Lightning home early. The last of the crucial plays came from the Columbus Blue Jackets/Pittsburgh Penguins series. The Blue Jackets’ Brandon Dubinsky played the part of “hero” in Game Four by sending the game into overtime with 24-seconds remaining (which Columbus ended up winning).
These clutch finishes led to some of the wildest games, with more overtime periods, in either of these league’s histories. In the NBA, fans witnessed eight overtime games, which is the most ever in the first round of the playoffs and two shy of the NBA postseason record. In the Memphis Grizzlies/Oklahoma City Thunder series alone, Games Two through Five went into overtime, which is also an NBA record for consecutive playoff games to go into overtime. The NHL boasted an even higher number, having 13 games go into overtime, including two games that went into multiple overtimes. Also, in the Colorado/Minnesota and St. Louis/Chicago series’, the NHL saw four of their games reach overtime.
Pushed to the Brink
There is nothing more exciting to a sports fan than getting to witness a Game Seven and both leagues, thankfully, graced us with eight- count ‘em- eight total Game Sevens. However, the NBA will have to get the nod in this category as they had three Game Seven’s this past Saturday- the most ever for a single day. Their five total Game Seven’s in this first round of NBA action also ties a league postseason record with three more rounds to go. That record would have almost been eclipsed early if it was not for Damian Lillard dropping the Rockets with his Game Six buzzer-beater. Just because the NBA is on track to shatter their postseason Game Seven record does not mean the NHL should feel bad. The NHL also witnessed three Game Seven’s in one day, which happened to be the first time that has happened since April 22, 2003.
Comebacks and Upsets
This could be the one distinct advantage the NHL playoffs have in the vote. There were not too many upsets in the first round of the NBA as the top-seeded Spurs, Thunder and Pacers found their strides by the start of Game Seven. However, the NBA still saw a number-three (Toronto Raptors) and two number-four seeds (Houston Rockets, Chicago Bulls) pack their bags early from the playoffs. Other than that, the outcomes were mostly predicted- although, the way they got to those outcomes were quite spectacular. In the NHL, the comebacks and upsets were numerous in the first round. The Western Conference of the NHL saw two number-two seeds (St. Louis Blues, San Jose Sharks) and a number-one seed (Colorado Avalanche) upset early on. For basketball fans reading this, that is equivalent to the number two, three, and four-seeds in the Western Conference losing in the opening round. However, the amazingness did not stop there.
In the NHL’s 48 first-round playoff games played, 28 of them saw comeback victories (58 percent of all games). There was also a record amount of 10 multi-goal comeback wins in the first round (12 total), with four of these coming in the third and final period. These come-from-behind victories did not all occur on a game-by-game basis either. Four teams in this year’s first round were down two games-to-none (Dallas Stars, Los Angeles Kings, Minnesota Wild, Chicago Blackhawks) and all of them, except for the Stars, came back to take the series. To put this in perspective, in 291 best-of-seven series, only 37 teams have ever come back from a two-game hole… three did it this year alone. The Los Angeles Kings, in particular, joined an elite group of teams. They were only the fourth team in NHL playoff history to come back from a three games-to-none hole and win (which now makes it four in 176 tries).
So, did the NBA or the NHL playoffs have a better first round? …Does it really matter? If the rest of the playoffs play out like the first rounds did, this could be the best overall playoffs series ever seen in both sports. So sports fans- sit back, relax, and enjoy the next round of games, as they appear set up for even more potential twists and turns and epic finishes.
Commentary by Ryne Vyles
Read Me @ GuardianLV