By Daniel Friedman
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There’s nothing more exciting in sports than NHL playoff hockey. I don’t care whether you like hockey or not. If you’re not watching these games, you’re doing yourself a tremendous disservice.
Part of what makes this time of year so great is not just the on-ice product itself, but the crowds and arena atmospheres that accompany it. Hockey fans are loud and, as you might expect, they get louder during the postseason.
Which team has the best playoff atmosphere in its building? Let’s find out:
1. MTS Centre, Winnipeg
If you didn’t watch Game 3 of the Ducks/Jets series, do yourself a favor and watch the next one, if only for the atmosphere. The playoffs are back in Winnipeg for the first time in nearly two decades, and the fans are showing how appreciative they are of that. The “whiteout” is as cool as anything, and though it had been kept alive by the Coyotes whenever they made the postseason, nothing beats the original.
Much like the next barn on our list, this is a small building with a low roof and a raucous crowd. The noise level reached 124 decibels in Game 3. To put that into perspective, a military jet taking off registers about 130 (per the game notes put out by their PR department).
2. Nassau Coliseum, Islanders
Playoff hockey has returned to Winnipeg, but it’s bidding farewell to Uniondale. These will be the last games ever played at Nassau Coliseum (we think), and the fans in the building have been standing and roaring since the opening faceoff of Game 3. If you thought it was loud when Shawn Bates scored on his penalty shot against Toronto in 2002, you should’ve heard the Coliseum when John Tavares netted the overtime winner on Sunday afternoon. However long this goodbye lasts, it’s a fitting ending to a storied venue packed with memories.
3. Bell Centre, Montreal
In case you live under a rock, people in Montreal like hockey. A lot. “Les Habitants” have been the city’s sweethearts since they first began play more than a century ago. The love affair is quite evident whenever the Canadiens take to the Bell Centre ice surface, and though the building is a modern one — with a higher ceiling and an emphasis on luxury — it has the charm and atmosphere of a classic hockey barn. It’s mesmerizing.
4. Bridgestone Arena, Nashville
Whenever people say that hockey doesn’t work in the Sun Belt, I point them to Nashville. There’s no question the city likes a good party, and the Predators often give it one. Those fans are rambunctious, to the point where there appears to be an earthquake taking place whenever Nashville scores a goal. Perhaps they don’t get as much attention as other fan bases, but they should.
5. Scotiabank Saddledome, Calgary
Everyone wears red, everyone’s loud, everyone’s into it. The Flames are often an underdog when they make the playoffs (as is the case this year), and that just makes it all the more satisfying for their fans when they play well despite being the underdog (as is the case so far in this series). This is another old barn, so it comes as no surprise that its residents keep it rocking, the way arenas used to be.
6. United Center, Chicago
The enthusiasm from the crowd is palpable right from the national anthem, during which the fans stand and cheer for the entire duration of the song. Say whatever you want about there being a lot of bandwagoners in Chicago, but this is a franchise that basically alienated what once was a rabid fan base and worked tirelessly to revive it and right all of those wrongs. This was a hockey town for many years, long before Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews.
7. Joe Louis Arena, Detroit
The Red Wings have made the playoffs for 24 consecutive seasons. The last time Joe Louis Arena didn’t see any postseason games, the Soviet Union was yet to be dissolved. Red Wings fans may have grown accustomed to seeing their team in the playoffs, but that doesn’t mean they’ve gotten bored — or any quieter about it. It’s another old barn which will eventually be replaced but has that classic feel to it.
8. Xcel Energy Center, Minnesota
The Wild has sold out virtually every home game it’s ever played since the inaugural season, and during the playoffs, the atmosphere inside Xcel Energy Center becomes even more intense. Those fans have yet to be rewarded with a Stanley Cup Final appearance, but it’s only a matter of time.
9. Madison Square Garden, Rangers
MSG underwent a sweeping transformation, but the building is just as loud as it’s always been. Sure, you have your corporate types in the stands at any given time, but there are still plenty of blue-collar Ranger fans who are extremely passionate about their team. I was at The Garden for the Stanley Cup Final last year, and I couldn’t hear myself think at times, that’s how loud it was.
10. Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa
With very few exceptions, Canadian cities generally produce outstanding playoff environments. Ottawa is one of those cities, and with the magical run the Senators went on to get into the postseason, the excitement level is even greater. Unfortunately for them, that hasn’t translated into any success in these playoffs, but the crowd has definitely been into it.
11. Scottrade Center, St. Louis
Considering it wasn’t too long ago that the Blues couldn’t give tickets away for free, they’ve rebounded tremendously in the attendance department. Not only that, but the fans who’ve packed into the building have been tremendous. I think there have been certain points during games where it’s been too quiet for my liking, but for the most part it’s been fun.
12. Rogers Arena, Vancouver
For a Canadian city, I’ve gotta say that Vancouver has been a bit disappointing as far as the energy level inside Rogers Arena. During the pregame it’s been loud, but during the actual game itself it’s been on the quieter side. Perhaps it’s just the amount of nervous tension, but I just feel like these fans were much louder in 2011, when the team was more of a favorite to contend for a Cup.
13. Consol Energy Center, Pittsburgh
Another crowd that at times gets really into it, and at others is eerily quiet. Again, maybe it’s nerves, maybe it’s the fact that the team has choked rather often the last few years. I don’t know. All I do know is it’s a bit disappointing to see. Also, the use of an air horn — followed by a prompted “Let’s Go Pens!” chant — is annoying, so I have to take points off.
14. Honda Center, Anaheim
I happen to know a lot of Ducks fans, and they’re all great people who are rather knowledgeable about the game. Whatever I’m about to say isn’t referring to them. But again, there have been too many points during games where it’s been too quiet. Also, thundersticks? C’mon, Anaheim.
15. Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay
I feel like Lightning fans have been louder in years past, which is surprising considering the team has as good a chance to go deep this year as in some of those prior seasons. Raise the noise level, Tampa. You’re better than this.
16. Verizon Center, Washington
Alex Ovechkin didn’t seem to think that Nassau Coliseum would be louder than Verizon Center. Considering the fact that my local public library is louder than Verizon Center, I’m not sure what he was getting at. It’s a shame, because when this crowd cheers it’s actually very loud. The problem is, it’s not often that happens — unless prompted by an air horn, the organ or a goal. There’s very little spontaneity. And speaking of that air horn, I have to take points off for that as well.