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Hefferon: Playoffs represent best and worst of hockey (April 20)

Jack Hefferon | Friday, April 20, 2012

Playoff Hockey.

Two words, but around this time of year they’re used almost ubiquitously in NHL locker rooms to describe the emotion, suspense, physicality and general craziness that comes with the territory in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Oft-injured superstar Sidney Crosby coming back and scoring the first goal of the playoffs? That’s Playoff Hockey. Coyotes goalie Mike Smith getting checked to the ice behind the net, with the Blackhawks accusing him of diving? Typical Playoff Hockey. Panes of glass falling on Bruins, one too many pucks on the ice during play, Gatorade jugs being tossed in rage and all the other insane occurrences we’ve seen so far? Only in Playoff Hockey.

Overtime? You bet. Nothing may be more closely associated with the playoffs than sudden-death overtime, where the gimmicky shootout of the regular season is put to pasture and the teams play five-on-five, as God and Lord Stanley intended. Plus, in one of the most pure and refreshing moves in professional sports, commercials don’t interrupt play once the game gets to overtime. Trust me, you don’t miss them.

Overtime games can end at any time with just one shot, but this task is so difficult that it often seems that it will take three or four overtimes (or a Mayan apocalypse) to find a winner. And when that moment does come, even elite players like Alexander Ovechkin rush on the ice like they’re six-year-olds at Chuck E. Cheese. Yup, overtime is definitely Playoff Hockey.

The Penguins-Flyers series? Well, that’s a different story.

For one, the All-Star game might be the only place you’ll see more scoring, as the series has had an absurd 45 goals in four games. As the calendar turns to April, scoring routinely tightens up around the league, as teams play more a gritty and conservative style.

But in addition to routinely outscoring the Pirates and Phillies, the Penguins and Flyers have played a brand of hockey that isn’t just physical, but at times downright thuggish. And that is not Playoff Hockey. The playoffs are notorious for dust-ups after the whistle, but players abide by hockey’s extensive collection of unwritten rules, and can look each other in the eye during the series-closing handshake lines.

In Game 3 alone, we saw Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham sucker punch an opponent and continue to hit him while he was defenseless on the ground, and the Penguins’ Craig Adams pull Scott Hartnell’s hair during a fight. Overall, the teams combined for 158 penalty minutes over the course of the 60 minute game, leaving a black eye on the NHL. Combined with the intent-to-injure hits supplied by New York’s Carl Hagelin, Ottawa’s Matt Carkner and Nashville’s Shea Weber, those who criticize violence and fighting in the NHL have had plenty of ammo.

Playoff Hockey? Look no further than the series between the Predators and Red Wings. After the aforementioned Weber smashed Henrik Zetterburg’s face into the glass during Game 1, it took Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi less than two minutes into Game 2 to issue Weber some frontier justice.

Bertuzzi approached Weber, the two dropped gloves, then beat the crap out of each other for the better part of 30 seconds. When asked about it after the game, Bertuzzi explained his actions: “That’s just hockey.”

And it was. The two dropped gloves, and that was that. You break the rules, you’re held accountable. The players police the code among themselves.

So as we progress through three more rounds (!) of the Cup Playoffs, give us less cheap shots and concussions, and more mind games in the media. More goalies standing on their heads, blocked shots, and fourth-liners becoming heroes. More of gamesmanship and edging the line and the sport at its finest.

More Playoff Hockey, please.


Contact Jack Hefferon at wheffero@nd.edu


The views expressed in this Sports Authority column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.