Stanley Cup playoffs: We're being spoiled by the first round

Jana Chytilova/Freestyle Photo

There's nothing to complain about when it comes to the first round of these 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Well, besides the fact that it's hard to watch four games at once.

For what seemed to be the fourth time in the past week, I found myself angry that I could not perfect a way to realistically watch four hockey games at once. The NHL has done a wonderful job at attempting to space out playoff games each night to avoid as much overlap as possible, yet still the feeling that there's just not enough room in my brain to process each game on its own merits persists.

The first round of the NHL postseason in 2013 has brought upon us an unheralded level of drama and excitement, reminding us all of just how powerful this sport can be when all is laid on the line. It is spoken regularly that the NHL postseason is the most exciting tournament in all of sports, an assertion that hockey fans will defend until their dying day.

Some years, the NHL playoffs are rather dull and the drama isn't necessarily who is going to survive to the end but how quickly they can get there.

In 2012, the Los Angeles Kings dominated storylines as they raced to the Stanley Cup Final, decimating any opponent that stood in their way. The drama wasn't so much in the games themselves but the fact that the Kings were the lowest seeded team in the west and how in the love of all that is holy can a No. 8 seed become so dominant?

For those that had actually paid attention the final months of the season, this was not a surprising outcome. There wasn't really much drama, other than seeing just what the national television ratings would be when the Devils played the Kings in a showdown on the West Coast. At least we had that first round series between the Flyers and Penguins to hold us over when it came to postseason drama.

We're only midway through the first round, 16 teams are still alive and only three or four games total have been played in each series. Yet we already have infinitely more drama and excitement in these playoffs than we witnessed in all of the 2012 postseason series combined.

Perhaps this is more of a result of the shortened season than anything, but it certainly feels as if the stakes and emotions and physicality and just the amazing overall ferocity of this postseason seems to be at a higher point than we've witnessed in quite some time. It could be that, with the lockout taking NHL hockey away from us for nearly half a season has allowed us a gratitude for the drama we always desire more than we could ever know.

Even the series where a full-on blowout was expected -- and could still actually occur -- have been met with fierce competition from the teams expected to just roll over. The Minnesota Wild responded to two straight road losses to Chicago by putting together a dramatic overtime victory, while the New York Islanders are proving to be a tougher opponent for the Penguins than most expected.

Even better than the excitement on the ice, and there has been plenty, has been the soap-opera quality drama off of it. Between Michel Therrien calling out Paul MacLean for a "classless" timeout call and Kevin Bieksa attacking the San Jose Sharks for embellishment -- oh the irony there -- there has been an incredible game played out away from the whistles that continues to remind us of just how special this sport can be.

The only series that one team is clearly dominating, with the Sharks on the verge of eliminating the Canucks, has been defined more about the drama unfolding in Vancouver than the fact that San Jose appears capable of actually not choking away postseason expectations.

What's been most interesting to see, however, is the disparity between the Western and Eastern Conferences when it comes to these postseason games. The West has always been the more defensive-minded of the two conferences yet never before was it more clear just how top-heavy the East has truly become -- no matter how valiant a fight the Islanders or Leafs may put up.

What is odd is that, for once, the games in the East have become defined by their pugilistic sensibilities than the offensive-heavy games we're used. Perhaps, after last year's Penguins and Flyers series, we should not be so surprised -- especially given the formula the Boston Bruins have used for so long for success. I doubt, however, that many expected the Canadiens and Senators to resort to such violence and perhaps we're starting to see how the approaches of one conference have started to bleed into the other.

As I watch these amazing games and series unfold, I can't help but be reminded how the postseason will be changing next season. With NHL realignment upon us, and a complete overhaul to the postseason format, there's no telling just much these playoff battles will change. It could be that this year is an anomaly and that the change to the playoff format was more than needed, but it certainly feels bittersweet that on the eve of sweeping changes we're being handed one of the more entertaining first rounds in recent NHL postseason history.

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