American ice hockey expert Jay Webster reports on the latest from the NHL Playoffs
If you haven’t been following the NHL Playoffs lately, you’ve been missing a lot. While there has been absolutely no shortage of spectacular hockey action, the biggest story so far has been the overall nastiness of the proceedings.
The action has been brutal, bloody and bad tempered, full of body blows, belligerence and bile – and in the case of Philadelphia’s Scott Hartnell, even a bit of hair pulling.
It has all led to the league handing out suspensions to nine players for a total of 16 games already. And we’re not even out of the first round yet, folks. To put it in some perspective, there were a total of seven suspensions during the entire playoffs last year.
Why all the bad blood? Some people point to the fact that the Boston Bruins won the Cup last year with a particularly physical brand of in-your-face hockey, resulting in other teams bringing their games to that level.
Some blame goes to Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, two teams that came in to their series with a desire to inflict some pain on each other based on an intense rivalry and lingering bad blood from the regular season. The Flyers managed to get under the skin of the more talented Penguins, outscoring them 20-12 in jumping out to a 3-0 series lead.
But Games 2 and 3 in particular turned nasty, descending into chaos and fisticuffs, with three Penguin players suspended for various indiscretions as frustrations bubbled over.
Just when it looked like the Pens – who opened the playoffs at as low as 4/1 odds to win the Stanley Cup – were on their way home for the summer, they dropped TEN goals on a disinterested Flyers team in a 10-3 Game 4 shellacking on Wednesday night.
While it’s still a very long shot that the Pens can become just the third team in NHL history to overcome a 3-0 series deficit, let alone recover to win the Cup (currently at 25/1), they officially served notice that they aren’t going to roll over. They also shined a light on some lingering nagging doubts about Philadelphia’s goaltending.
If nothing else, we’d like to see the series go a few more games just for the entertainment value.
While all of the suspensions have been well deserved, and some have legitimately resulted from actions taken in the heat of the battle, the incident that sums up all that’s wrong with the liberties being taken by players on the ice lately is the hit Phoenix’s Raffi Torres unleashed on Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa in Game 3 of their series on Tuesday.
Torres, who has a deserved reputation as a head hunter, left his feet to deliver a devastating late hit that targeted Hossa’s head and sent him to the hospital.
Torres was suspended indefinitely, and can expect a lengthy spell on the sidelines when the details of his ban are announced.
The hit and its aftermath have, however, added some spice to a series that has seen the Coyotes take a 2-1 series lead, dropping their odds of winning the Cup from 60/1 to 16/1. Game 4 of that series is Thursday night in Chicago.
The emotion and intensity of the NHL Playoffs is unrivalled. It’s a fine line that NHL players walk between controlled chaos and the wheels falling off. Sometimes the line gets crossed, and we seem to be seeing an awful lot of that this year. Don’t expect a lot of peace, love and understanding on the road to the Stanley Cup.