The line goes something like this: Why watch the NHL playoffs when you can cover yourself in raw meat and swim past a school of piranha?
The Stanley Cup playoffs have been electric this year. The playoffs often are thrilling, with teams saving the best drama for the end of the season.
As the field narrowed to four teams — the Edmonton Oilers, Colorado Avalanche, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers fans have rekindled their love with hockey. This year’s playoff coverage is averaging 17% more viewers than last year’s games — and 46% more if you include the games that were on broadcast TV last year.
The reasons behind the surge are simple: there’s star power, there are big-name teams and there’s drama. No piranhas required.
Stanley Cup Breakout Stars
A hot goaltender can carry a team all the way to a Stanley Cup title. And a couple of guys are trying just that. Here’s a look at the frontliners, goalies and defenders who are taking turns star the NHL playoffs.
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning goalie: Vasilevskiy stood on his head in the second round, allowing three goals on 154 shots. The only way for a goalie to be more effective is to erect a brick-and-mortar wall in front of the goal. As a result, Vasilevskiy was second among all netminders in goals saved above what would be expected of a typical goalie with 11.
Igor Shesterkin, New York Rangers goalie: While Vailevskiy had a wild second round, Shesterkin has been consistent. In 14 games of work through the first two rounds, compared to Vasilevskiy’s 11 games in net, Shesterkin led all goalies with 11.4 goals saved above expected.
Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers center: Nobody has had a better playoff run than McDavid, possibly ever. He has seven goals and 19 assists for 26 points. He’s on pace to pass Wayne Gretzky’s record for a single playoffs (47 points in 1985). Anytime you’re mentioned in the same breath as The Great One, you’re having a good postseason.
Evander Kane, Edmonton Oilers winger: Much of McDavid’s work involves setting up Kane, who has not missed many opportunities. Kane leads the playoffs with four goals more than would be expected, given the chances he’s had.
Cale Makar, Colorado Avalanche defender: He’s been nicknamed “the unstoppable defensemen” because he finds so many ways to beat his opposition. Makar has the most points of any Colorado player, which is remarkable because he’s a defender; he’s not supposed to be focused on offense. Teammate Nathan MacKinnon takes care of most of the scoring, with his eight goals in 10 games. Makar has 10 assists and has been called a “generational” talent.
NHL Playoff Teams
Teams matter. When longtime NHL teams like Chicago or Boston play for a Stanley Cup, viewers tune in — especially if the series goes seven games. This year’s final four teams are proven ratings winners. The Rangers are trying to win their first title since 1994. Colorado hasn’t won since 2001. Edmonton, led by Hall of Famer Mark Messier, last won a title in 1990. Meanwhile, Tampa Bay is trying to win its third straight Stanley Cup championship.
We know fans tune in when storied teams play each other.
The biggest opening-round series this year was between the Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins; the seventh game of their series averaged 2.33 million viewers on TBS. It was the most-watched first-round game on cable since at least 1994.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are the Cardiac Kids. They trailed 3-1 in the first round against Pittsburgh, then rallied from down 2-0 and 3-2 against Carolina Hurricanes to make the Eastern Conference Finals.
“I’ve kind of referred to us as cockroaches. We just didn’t go away,” said forward Chris Kreider. “That’s always been ingrained in the culture of every good team I’ve been on here. We just don’t go away, regardless of the score and regardless of where the game is.”
Tampa Bay Lightning
We’ve already talked a little about him, but goalie Vasilevskiy deserves more. He’s 10-0 in elimination games since the 2020 playoffs. His .925% career playoff save percentage is third-best all-time. And he’s already beaten the top two offensive teams from the regular season.
Along with Kane and McDavid, Winger Zach Hyman gives the Oilers the most potent offense still in the playoffs. Hyman has eight goals and four assists to pair with Kane’s 12 goals and McDavid’s 19 assists.
Goalie Darcy Kuemper has had it easy. In nine games, he’s seen just 218 shots, for an average of 24 shots a contest. That’s the least of any goalie still in the playoffs.
Through the first two rounds of the playoffs, six series have gone all the way to Game 7. The NHL postseason record is seven series going to Game 7, so there’s a good chance of at least tying the record.
Last year, only one opening-round series went seven games.
Added to that, the games have been good. The average margin of victory in the second round was a little more than two goals — and every old coach will tell you a two-goal lead is the most dangerous in hockey.
The 2022 Stanley Cup
The final two teams standing in the playoffs will meet for the Stanley Cup in mid June. The games could run all the way to June 30, nearly two months after the playoffs began.
How can I watch the Stanley Cup Playoffs on TV?
TNT will host Western Conference Final coverage in the U.S., while ESPN has the Eastern Conference Final. The finals will be on ABC.
Keep up with the NHL finals schedule, how to watch and more right here.
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