So far, the Sharks’ Stanley Cup playoff series with the Los Angeles Kings is giving hockey nuts everything they could ask for: drastic momentum swings, rock’em, sock’em play, a controversial suspension, a wounded hero and dazzling performances from two of the game’s best goalies.
In one corner, we have the defending champs and in the other, a veteran club that might be making its last push to finally capture Lord Stanley’s Cup. And all the action is wrapped up and packaged in a heated NorCal-SoCal division rivalry.
But I’ll excuse you if you’re a little late to the show; the Warriors were probably stealing all of your free time.
This could be the Sharks’ best shot of bringing the cup to Northern California, but the team’s recent surge has been overshadowed by the Warriors’ most exciting season in more than 20 years. As usual, the NBA eclipsed the NHL and it happens all over the country.
The NHL faces numerous challenges as it tries to expand its audience in nontraditional markets and going head-to-head against the NBA playoffs certainly doesn’t help matters.
Playoff hockey is unlike anything else in sports with multiple overtime games, low seeds beating high seeds and players selling out on every single shift. The tournament is unpredictable and every series is a battle of attrition.
But a lot of sports fans don’t get the opportunity to appreciate the game in its finest form because, realistically, they aren’t going to turn away from the NBA playoffs. I grew up watching hockey, but I’m often conflicted when a must-see NBA series, like Warriors-Spurs, gets rolling because I love basketball, too. Why am I forced to make this choice?
Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy fix here. Usually, the NHL playoffs start during the second week of April, a couple weeks before the NBA playoffs get underway. It would seem logical to start the playoffs a month earlier, but then the NHL would be taking on March Madness, which isn’t a favorable matchup either.
The best time to showcase the sport is probably in February during that lull between the Super Bowl and Selection Sunday. February is a good month to be indoors, escaping the final weeks of winter, but this would mean starting the NHL season at the end of August, which is way too early to lace up the skates. The other option — playing the Stanley Cup in July when baseball monopolizes the market — is too ridiculous to even consider.
So, hockey is stuck where it is, playing second fiddle to the NBA, the fourth ticket in almost every major market in the country. Without a stage to itself, hockey will continue to be a niche sport in almost every city south of Philadelphia, which is unfortunate because it really is a great game.
But if you’re experiencing withdrawals from Warriors fever, you can soothe the pain by tuning into the Sharks game tonight. If the teal wins Game 4, we could be in for a classic series and, who knows, maybe this is the Bay Area’s chance to go Cup Crazy. It’s been that kind of year hasn’t it?
Paul Gackle is a columnist for The San Francisco Examiner. He can be reached at email@example.com and followed on Twitter @GackleReport.