By Rob Kotaska
Back when I was a kid the Stanley Cup Finals would be deep into the series. Some of the big story-lines of the post-season’s final series would already be carried by a bi-polar inertia of hate for the opposing team, and fulfilling dreams carried from their midget blades to the NHL. The ice was often better, given the mid-May ending dates, even as the technology lagged with what is available today. The NHL, and quality ice surfaces were not meant to dip into June.
Those were the days where the scheduling of the first two rounds was dictated by saving costs, rather than network executives. The team that hosted games 1 and 2 would have them played back to back nights in the same arena. Then there would be a travel day, followed by back to back games in the other city. Playing 4 games in 5 nights it led to pure animosity between the two teams. The vitriol for games 5 through 7 was heightened not only by the stakes of moving onto the next round, but also through pure hatred for the team lacing them up in the next dressing room. Compounding the hate in those pre-Bettman days: the first two rounds were played within the division. Some serious baggage made its way into each series of the first two rounds.
Post-Bettman the NHL went to a Conference format, with divisions only relevant in terms of scheduling and being in first place and being handed a top 3 seed. Also lost: the back to back scheduling of games in the first two rounds. In its place: a more television schedule-friendly format where at times there were two days off between games in order to get some more weekend games.
In the wake of these changes the Stanley Cup playoffs lost some edge, especially when it came to the first two rounds.
I don’t recall the NBA featuring back to back tilts, but the scheduling trick of interrupting the flow of a series all in the name of more weekend games is alive and well in the Association. A later ending date and playing surface issues don’t impact the NBA Finals in the same way as the NHL. But the reasoning for the gaps is just as lame.