NHL playoffs 2013: Conference finals continue debate over 'exciting hockey'

Alex Trautwig

The NHL postseason has featured a heated debate over just what constitutes "exciting hockey" with the Western and Eastern conferences presenting two different approaches to success. The two series will feature both styles and approaches on a center stage; which series will ultimately be deemed the most entertaining?

There's no doubting which of the two conference finals will receive the most attention and will be the most viewed on television. The Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins represent two of the largest superpowers in the NHL of the past half decade or so, along with two of the more dedicated television markets in North America when it comes to hockey. The series will easily garner more coverage on a national level than the Kings and Blackhawks will out West.

The fact the Bruins and Penguins also bring several intriguing storylines to the table, including the Jaromir Jagr saga and Jarome Iginla's trade deadline decision, will only add to the level of scrutiny this series will earn over the coming two weeks.

Despite what one can only assume to be a bit of lopsided attention on a national scale, these two series will also likely continue the debate over what constitutes "exciting hockey." The disparity in playing styles and team structure between the East and West has never been more evident than during the 2013 postseason, and luckily we now have the top two teams in each conference facing off in what could be the ultimate test in just what people determine to be the more entertaining of the two.

It's easy to see why the two conferences have diverged when it comes to scoring and goal totals. In the East, a premium has been placed on skill and scoring prowess up front; teams like the New York Rangers, which had one of the deeper defenses and best goaltending in the East, couldn't keep up with the balanced attack of the Bruins. The Penguins easily outpaced the Ottawa Senators, who simply didn't have the offensive firepower to keep up with Sidney Crosby and company.

Out West is a different story, as the Kings have shown how strong goaltending and defense can carry a team forward. Jonathan Quick has shown himself capable of winning a postseason series pretty much all on his own, while even the high-flying Chicago Blackhawks of the regular season have been forced to slow things down in the postseason.

Consider the disparities in goal scoring and defense so far in the playoffs between the four remaining teams:

Kings Blackhawks Bruins Penguins
GF/G 2.00 2.75 3.17 4.27
GA 1.54 1.83 2.33 2.55
Shots For 24.77 33.92 38.25 33.09
Shots Against 29.38 28.17 32.58 33.36

So, which series stands to be the more "entertaining" of the two? The teams averaging well over three goals per game, with a high volume of shots, in what could potentially become a high-flying and high-scoring affair? Or what will almost assuredly become a chess match between two strong defensive teams with a premium placed on scoring?

There's no doubt which series the NHL will be pushing into the national spotlight as much as possible, as the general consensus is that the "casual fan" would most likely prefer the series where the score is 5-3 and 6-4 every game. Meanwhile, most purists and Western Conference fans will be perfectly content with the series where any goal scored carries an incredible amount of weight behind it.

What was most interesting to see was the complaining across the national media and the hockey landscape about the "boring" games in the two series in the West. Including where the Kings and Sharks played a Game 7 that featured less than 20 shots on goal for the winning team. Game 7 between the Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings was just as tight, with a 1-1 tie game being decided in the opening minutes of overtime.

Yet these two series were between four fairly evenly matched teams in low-scoring games, while the East featured two 4-1 series blowouts while the lesser teams barely even had a chance at competing. So, which was the more exciting of the two? Which games featured the most drama, where any shot that passed through the defense was met with a collective gasp by the home crowd and television audience -- where any goal could become the deciding factor in an extremely tight series?

Now, there's an even more interesting battle happening within in the Eastern Final itself where the Bruins will attempt to use their own brand of Western-style physical defensive hockey to slow down the prolific Penguins. Perhaps that battle in an of itself will create a whole other level of drama and intrigue, of a different type of what we'll see between the Blackhawks and Kings in the West.

The debate over what constitutes "exciting" hockey will never really be won, although the NHL will likely continue to try and push for more and more offense. Perhaps these two series will prove that there really is no true answer for what is more entertaining, with hockey fans able to enjoy the differing styles of each series and appreciate both on their own merits.

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