The compelling team story lines are also helping to drive television ratings. The playoffs include a New York-Boston matchup that has not been seen in 40 years, and the remaining eight teams comprise a Canadian squad (the Ottawa Senators) and the defending champion Los Angeles Kings.
Hockey fans are eating it up. Seventeen games went into overtime in the first round, and the NHL is seeing record ratings across the board.
NBC Sports Network said this NHL regular season had more viewers than in any year since it began broadcasting games in 2005. As for NBC itself, ratings were up 15% for regular season games even without the Winter Classic (a popular regular season game played outdoors), which was canceled because of the lockout.
"We played through about 98% of capacity for attendance during the regular season, and we're up over 100% for the playoffs" Bettman said.
In such an environment, would buying an NHL team be a good move?
"For most sports teams we probably do better than the Dow," said Bettman, "It's a good, stable investment."
However, he added, most owners have a passion for the game and want to give back to their community. "It's not just for the seats," he added.
The Stanley Cup has a 130-year history and rich tradition.
The cup itself dates back to the 1890s, when Lord Stanley of Preston, then Canada's governor general, donated the bowl to award the recipient of the nation's top amateur ice hockey club, the Montreal HC.
"We don't make a new one each year like the other sports," Bettman said.
The NHL is also the only sport in which participants get their name on the championship trophy. "There are about 2,375 names" on it, he said.
The shortened season didn't have the effect that many predicted, Bettman said. "We don't take hockey fans for granted. We have the best sports fans in the world."
—By CNBC's Jessica Golden. Follow her on Twitter @JGolden5