There’s nothing quite like the NHL playoffs.

Sorry, but the NBA’s postseason simply doesn’t compare. I know, I know, hockey is a low-scoring sport for Canadians and Europeans with impossible-to-spell surnames and you can’t be bothered to turn your attention away from Craig Sager’s fluorescent sport coats, but that’s your loss.

The NHL’s eventual champion will win the Stanley Cup. ‘The’ Stanley Cup, not ‘A’ Larry O’Brien Trophy. @@’s Holy Grail is one trophy, the same one lifted by Wayne Gretzky, Gordie Howe and Bobby Orr. That definitely adds a sort of magical quality to the Cup that isn’t present with any other trophy in American sports. While it’s cool for NBA, NFL and MLB teams to be able to have trophy rooms, it’s another thing entirely when the grand prize is the same object lifted by hockey’s all-time greats.

And what a trophy it is, too.

First off, the Stanley Cup is simply gorgeous. Hockey is, realistically, the fourth- or fifth-most popular sport in this country (which is a tragedy in and of itself), but I think it’s pretty safe to say the Stanley Cup is the most recognizable trophy in American sports, although the Stanley Cup is much more than a trophy.

With the names of every player and coach ever to win it etched into its sides, the Stanley Cup is a primary source of league history and even the world of hockey before the existence of the NHL.

Amid these names are imperfections, typos — even one flat out inaccuracy from when Edmonton Oilers owner Peter Pocklington had his father’s name engraved on the trophy in 1984. That name has been crossed off the cup with a series of Xs marked over [email protected]@

But the stories the Stanley Cup could tell if it ever got the chance to talk go far, far beyond the legends etched into its side. Players and their families get 24 hours with the Cup when their team wins and they’re basically free to do with it as they please, provided they don’t break it.

Babies have been baptized in it, dogs have been fed from it, and it’s held its share of celebratory liquors in victorious locker rooms. @@ @@

Such a prize creates a postseason that puts the intensity level of the NBA playoffs to shame. Everything is bigger, faster, louder and done with more oomph. You know, everything you like about the NBA playoffs, just more so.

Even if you don’t watch hockey in the regular season, the NHL playoffs are worth paying attention to. The pace of the game is ratcheted up so much from the regular season it almost resembles an entirely different sport. Hits are harder, saves are more acrobatic. Playoff hockey is a rare sport where ‘desperation’ is a requirement for success.

Oh, and the north-of-the-border equivalent of Craig Sager is head-and-shoulders crazier than Craig could ever hope to be. Don’t believe me? Just look up Don Cherry. @@,mod%3D14&q=don+cherry&um=1&ie=UTF-8&hl=en&tbm=isch&source=og&sa=N&tab=wi&ei=Ri20T66pHoGC2AWJ1eQ8&biw=1600&bih=788&sei=SC20T_WMBqPQ2AWzxNkf#q=don+cherry&um=1&hl=en&sa=N&tbm=isch&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.,cf.osb&fp=1&biw=1050&[email protected]@

Those suits are something, huh? And if you’ve ever watched Hockey Night In Canada, you can back me up on this — they’re actually an accurate reflection of how crazy a man like Cherry really is.

Oh, and the beards.

There is no greater tradition in sports than playoff beards, and nothing says May hockey like a good quality playoff beard. I’m trying to imagine what the NBA playoffs would look like if 90 percent of people played rocking the James Harden look and it doesn’t seem to translate to the hardwood. @@

The other great tradition of the NHL playoffs lies not in a symbol of victory but in one of defeat. At the end of each playoff series the teams shake hands at center ice, you know, like you did when you were 12. It’s really cool to see a handshake line after a long, physical seven game series. Players that were, moments ago, about to maim each other showing a genuine act of sportsmanship — that’s special.

Playoff sports are always more intense than the regular season, but as a spectacle, the NHL playoffs are truly in a league of their own.

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