Thu May 28 11:40am EDT
The moaning about the playoff schedule in some corners of the media and hockey fandom has been one of the most baffling and asinine developments of the postseason.
Two days before the finals is "too short." Eight days before the finals would have been a "crippling blow" for positive momentum. The entire thing plays out like some bizarro hockey version of Goldilocks and the porridge, except there's no one who can pin down what "just right" is.
Because they won last night, Detroit Red Wings now have two off-days and most of Saturday to heal up before Game 1 of the Stanley Cup finals against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Whether or not this is a tactical advantage for the Penguins is less an issue with NBC and the NHL than it is with the unfortunate fragility of some Red Wings' players during the playoff grind.
Yet the Red Wings sounded like grumpy old men last night when asked about the truncated break, as Coach Mike Babcock wondered where the customary mini-vacation for a five-game series win went.
Of course, this ire over the small break in games from finals to final pales in comparison to the colossal overreaction to the NHL's mortal made-for-TV "sin": The first back-to-back games since 1955. Oh, the humanity!
We've known that NBC was going to schedule the first two games of the Stanley Cup finals on back-to-back nights since April, but some fans are still insulted that NBC's prime-time schedule is dictating terms for the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Despite having decided on this schedule before Pittsburgh won a round, we now have the black helicopter crowd wondering if this short break and busy weekend is the NHL's way "of helping the Pens because it sure seems like an unfair advantage considering how nicked up the Wings are?"
Look, you'd have to be blind, deaf and really dumb not to think Gary Bettman has shown more favoritism for Pittsburgh than Detroit during his tenure. The man probably dries his face with a Terrible Towel.
But creating a schedule with NBC that benefits the Penguins -- on the off chance that they make it back to the Cup finals a month later and face a Red Wings team that may have significant injuries ... the brain aches conceiving the Terminator-level time-travel paradox that is this conspiracy theory demands.
Not everyone's going Fox Mulder on this. Some just feel it's bad for hockey. From My Blueshirt Heaven:
The first two games of the Stanley Cup finals are going to be played back to back this weekend in Detroit because NBC doesn't want to take up its valuable weeknight primetime schedule with NHL hockey. Bettman acquiesces because he needs the exposure for the NHL and he'll take it anyway he can get it, even if it means putting the game and it's players to disadvantage.
After garnering good ratings with the Winter Classic, one would think that NBC would be willing to put the Stanley Cup Finals up against its schedule of all repeat sitcoms on Monday night, thus allowing both teams a day off in between games.
But the sitcoms and the reality shows get better ratings. And NBC doesn't want triple-OT screwing with its local news or Conan's first week on "The Tonight Show." That's the sad reality. And as someone who feels it important to have the NHL's championship round on broadcast television in the U.S. -- like the NBA, NFL and MLB do -- then you take what's given to you by the broadcasting partner. NBC wanted the first two games of the playoffs and they didn't want them on a weekday.
Them's the breaks. Until the NHL earns its leverage in these sorts of negotiations, this is the reality of their surroundings. Or else have a made-for-cable championship round, which not even MLS has.
And if the idea is to capture casual fans, then having Game 2 on a Sunday night is actually rather inspired. It's a big night for channel flipping.
Outside the NBC dilemma, this all comes back to the "what about the children!" argument that the NHL is placing its players in some perilous situation by playing on back-to-back nights. From Mike Boone of Habs Inside/Out:
This is how much the NHL cares about its players: The league's showcase series begins with exhausting, injury-risking back-to-back games.
The Penguins and Red Wings begin the Stanley Cup final Saturday night at 8 in Detroit. Game 2 will be played on Sunday, time to be determined.
Seriously, they play a regular season that's about 12 games too long and a preseason that probably shouldn't even exist. They're flown around the country at god-awful hours for a grueling physical routine; rivaling perhaps only professional wrestlers in bumps-to-frequent-flier mileage ratios. By the end of the campaign, you've got guys playing with broken bones and through a concussion haze.
But back-to-back games is the last straw?
Save it. This weekend is great for hockey, if not for the practical recuperation of its players than for the theater of it all. As usual, Mike Heika paints the best big picture:
Meanwhile, the NHL dazzles us with the old weekend back-to-back to start the series. I'm intrigued. Game 1 is Saturday night in Detroit. Game 2 is Sunday TBD in Detroit. They did this for NBC, and the chance to steal a little of the national spotlight. They also did it because they probably are hoping that at least one of the NBA Conference finals series will be over by then.
On one hand, I love it. This is how they used to run the playoffs, and it's still how they do it in the minors. You bring a team into town and you jump right into the battle. There are tough decisions for coaches to make, there is instant friction that carries over from Game 1 to Game 2. There is a real life warrior attitude.
That said, hockey is not basketball or baseball. This is like scheduling back-to-back football games. This league has been playing since October, and has rarely forced teams to play back-to-back in the playoffs. Why now? What if Game 1 goes to triple overtime?
Will they have anything left for Game 2?
But aren't we dying to find out, not only in Game 2 but in the overtime of Game 1? And it's the point of this entire tournament to give us something to care about as sports fans? It's back-to-back games, not seven consecutive nights. Enjoy it.