This Is Your Captain Speaking…

In hockey, team captains are designated with the letter ‘C’ sewn into their jersey on the left side, right over the heart.

But for certain teams competing in this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs, spectators don’t need a letter to tell who their captain is.

Take the Los Angeles Kings’ captain Dustin Brown for instance. Brown finished the regular season 76th in the league with 56 points. At the trade deadline, with the Kings struggling to produce offence, Brown’s name appeared in multiple trade rumours. According to hockey analysts and insiders, Brown was the kind of guy LA might be willing to part with in order to obtain more scoring to help them in the playoffs.

Now that the playoffs are underway, we’re seeing what kind of guy they would have given up.

Dustin Brown is not LA’s most talented player. Not if we’re talking about pure offensive talent. But typically, you don’t get to be captain of an NHL franchise just by being the best player on the team. Sure, Sidney Crosby is the best player on the Pittsburgh Penguins, but Ryan Callahan is not the best player on the New York Rangers. Not even close.

Every good captain—whether or not they’re gifted with the ability to rally their troops in the dressing room before the puck drops—raises his level come playoff time, and provides his team with an example to follow.

That’s what we’ve seen from Dustin Brown so far.

It’s not just that Brown leveled Vancouver captain Henrik Sedin Sunday night, and then scored the game-winning goal to put LA up three games to none in the series. (Despite my assertion that Brown is not his team’s best offensive player, he leads the Kings with five points in the first three games of the playoffs).

But it’s the other ways he leads the Kings. It’s what he said and did after hitting Henrik that make him a real captain. He accepted his fate—fate being a euphemism for getting tackled by Kevin Bieksa. Then, on the next shift, he received a clean hip-check from Bieksa, and what did he do? He got up and continued to play hockey. No slash at Bieksa’s knees, no punch aimed at the back of his head. Not even a single taunt aimed at his aggressor.

Surely Alex Burrows watched wide-eyed from the Vancouver bench, unable to comprehend a body check that didn’t result in a solid 10 seconds of face-washing.

And after the game was over, and Brown was asked about the response he received for slamming Sedin, he showed no lack of respect for his opponent, saying “They reacted like any team would when one of their better players gets hit like that. That’s part of playoff hockey”.

As simple, and perhaps cliché, as his words may seem, that’s the kind of player you want representing your hockey team. The kind of guy you don’t trade away because he strives with every play, and every action, to embody the spirit of a winning hockey team.

We need only look at the other eighth-seeded team in this year’s playoffs to find another example worth following:

In game 2 of the Senators-Rangers series, rookie Carl Hagelin delivered an armoured elbow to the head of Senators’ captain Daniel Alfredsson, knocking him from the game.

Alfredsson spoke to reporters the next day, and after confirming that he had suffered a concussion on the hit, and expressing doubt on whether he’d be available to play in game 3, he addressed the hit itself: “Carl is not that kind of player,” Alfredsson said. “In the intensity of a playoff game, things happen. It’s one thing the league is preaching, no blows to the head… he got his elbow up… things happen, it’s playoff hockey.”

Just like that, with that familiar refrain, Alfredsson sent a clear message to the rest of the Senators: there will be no Matt Carkner-on-Brian Boyle type retribution—partly because both Carkner and Hagelin would be suspended for game 3—but also because that’s not how the Senators are going to win this series, and Alfie knows it. If anyone knows the Ottawa Senators, it’s Daniel Alfredsson.

That’s why he’s still here. Those of us with good memories may remember that Ottawa was supposed to be rebuilding this season. But even before their successful season, when Sens fans were bracing themselves for a long and painful rebuilding process, there was never much—if any—talk of trading Alfredsson. Why not? Rebuilding your franchise is supposed to start with trading away your best players for draft picks, isn’t it?

Because no matter where you are in the standings, you don’t part with natural leaders, and you certainly don’t tarnish a legacy.

Leaf fans will recall the Sundin debacle. There’s no need to get into it again. Those wounds are still fresh.

The Senators know what they have in Alfredsson. They’ve had it for over ten years. And now that the conversation about having seen Alfie’s last playoff game can begin—even if he returns for another season, there is no guarantee that this Senators team can surprise everyone by making it back to the post-season next year—we can be sure that he’ll go out as the captain of the Ottawa Senators.

Here’s hoping he’s got a few more games left in him.

Written by Roy Herron.

Journey to the Underworld: The Pittsburgh-Philadelphia Series Embraces Mayhem

There’s only one way to start at this point; you’ve got to see it to believe it:

I hope you watched the whole thing, so you can really get the scope of what that series has mutated into. Now we have to ask ourselves do we like it?

It’s harder to answer than it at first seems. This is, make no mistake, a question of both entertainment and sports philosophy. Would you rather see Giroux and Crosby fight or score goals? Should we even have to choose?

Perhaps it’s not the fact that the games mean more, that each goal carries so much weight, which makes the playoffs more interesting, but rather, that the games get so ugly, the hate so visceral, and we are like so many passengers whose necks are careening around the burnt-out car wreck, vultures to the slaughter.

Or maybe not. Many sports writers today were adamant about their dislike for the nasty turn these games have taken. Damien Cox’s article on the matter is worth reading. Moreover, on each sports broadcast you can watch as the moderator tries to suggest that the fights, slashes and hits are not “hockey plays”, while the former players to his left and right try to hold their tongues. Then again, there is the network to consider.Everyone has a boss. Except for us I guess.

First it would be prudent to examine how these games got out of control. In both the New York game and the Pittsburgh game a fighter was thrown out in the first period, Carkner and Asham respectively. While they probably deserved to be thrown out, those are two players who could be used as deterrents against further head hunting. The refs in the Pittsburgh game also failed to address the players who were really stirring the pot; namely James Neale. The problem is that scores will eventually settle themselves (see: brian boyle) if the refs don’t settle them first. There’s nothing more fearful than a player like Carkner who feels like justice wasn’t done, and that he must do it.

Enter the dissenting view: that through legislation these quams may be quelled. This is the crux of Cox’s view (k, i’ll stop with those sweet alliterations) that if Shanahan and the refs would only do their jobs, and consistently, then we wouldn’t have this bloody sham of a playoff. This is wrong methinks.

It is essentially a question of ethics, and on the question there are generally two views. On one hand there are those who believe that we do not commit crimes because they are against the law, this is an appeal to legislation and the deterring power of punishment. On the other hand, there are those who think that we do not commit crimes because of some higher moral/cultural code. Simply ask yourself, do you fail to murder someone each day simply because it’s illegal? Similarily, would you kill someone tomorrow if it were legal? Probably not.

So why not just ram someone’s head into the boards? (and don’t give me Shea Webber as an example, that wasn’t that bad, and if it were, I’m sure Zetterberg would have been injured)

There has to be a level of respect amongst players for such things to be avoided. You know, the golden rule and such. However in the playoffs that respect is quickly eroded. You play against the same person enough, when all they want to do is win, and you’ll stop caring all too quickly how he would do unto you.

To be specific, all Crosby and Giroux want is to win; but there’s a big problem, they both can’t win, and one is always preventing the other from achieving his goal. This is why game seven will always be uglier than game one, no matter how well refereed the games are: we give these players time to hate each other. And, as we all know, hate leads to the dark side of the force.

Battle Royale

So who will win out between Darth Sid and Lord Giroux? Right now it definitely looks like Giroux, who has probably been the best player thus far in the playoffs. However I won’t count the Penguins out just yet (partly because I have them winning the Stanley Cup). This is the most talented team in the league, and we haven’t seen a good game out of Malkin yet. If they get him going they can win four straight.

And if they need any pointers on how to come back from a 3-0 deficit, they only need to ask the Philadelphia Flyers, who did it two years ago.

Written by Jesse Borg.

Tagged , , , , ,

There Will Be Blood: Videos on Videos on Videos of Fights on Fights on Fights.

A Weekend Of Playoff Hockey Dissolved Into Pure Mayhem On Saturday.

I found it hard to watch the Vancouver L.A game on Friday night, not because it wasn’t a good game, it was very good, but after watching the perfect hockey game (from a fan’s perspective) that took place in Pittsburgh, nothing else seemed comparable. That was until Saturday, when all hell broke loose in the NHL.

It started in New York, New York, when Matt Carkner was ejected from the game after playing a mere 39 seconds. Watching Carkner sucker Brian Boyle twice before Boyle could drop his stick was a taste of an earlier vintage. In fact, most of Saturday felt like 1975 in the NHL. The mid-seventies were, of course, the time when the Broadstreet Bullies ruled the rinks, and Dave ‘the hammer’ Shoaltz was the undisputed heavyweight champion of the NHL. Last night it was Matt Carkner, as evidenced by this:

Resulting penalties: game misconducts for both Carkner, no arguing with that one, and Brandon Dubinski for being third man in. That was a little rough, especially considering that while Boyle is getting pummeled while lying on his back, the linesman about 3 feet away is just watching dispassionately. He did raise his hand for a penalty though, that’s something I guess.

In true playoff fashion it was a rough and tumble affair, with a few more fights and the winning goal being scored by Chris Neil. Oh yeah, there was also a little something about Daniel Alfredsson getting charged resulting in him having to leave the game:

This appears to be a suspendable hit, particularly when you consider who was hit. What I found most interesting about this hit was that, while Carkner started yesterday’s game with the expressed intent of seeking revenge for Boyle’s suckering of Karlsson in game one, no one came to the defense of Alfredsson, the captain and oldest member of the team. Will it take another night or two to sleep on it as was the case for Carkner’s revenge? While it was admirable that the Sens started the game with the mindset that they would stick up for each other and right previous wrongs, it seems as though that may have just been tactical. On one hand, grandstanding, on the other, intimidation and a commitment to so-called “playoff hockey”. In any case the complete lack of a response to that hit makes me think that for all their talk of family after the game, they did not feel the need to stick up for dad, Alfredsson being the obvious choice for patriarch in that analogy.

On To San Jose and St. Louis, Where Headshots and Fights Abound!

Perhaps the most costly headshot of the night was that on Juroslav Halak, committed by his own teammate Barret Jackman:

Too bad about Halak. They do have that other goalie though.

That’s not where the madness ends however, it continues with Brent Burns’ blatant elbow to the head Scott Nichol. Note that the commentator calls it a glancing blow. Perhaps he’s never played hockey, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a glancing elbow to the head. Those hurt, and this one is likely to hurt Brent Burns as well.

This one also dissolved into a line brawl. It seems pertinent now that I brought up the NHL fan bloodlust before this year’s playoffs, because I don’t remember an uglier start.

Today The Penguins will play the Flyers in Philadelphia in what has to be a must win for Pittsburgh. We can be sure that this one too will provide some of the sweet barbarism we’ve seen over the weekend, perhaps more.

Written by Jesse Borg

A Marathon of Guts

With the Stanley Cup Playoffs now under way, we’ll likely be hearing a lot about courage. Gritty performances. Guts. Gumption.

It’s playing through the pain, persevering, and (usually) coming out on the winning side that turns ordinary athletes into heroes.

Canada has no shortage of sports heroes, no shortage of memorable gutsy performances. Players who overcame obstacles to win when it mattered most. One-eyed Steve Nash putting up 20 points and helping the Phoenix Suns down the San Antonio Spurs in the Western Conference Semi-Final of the NBA playoffs. Paul Kariya coming back to life after getting Scott Stevens-ed, and then scoring a game seven forcing goal on the kind of slapshot we’ve all tried in a shinny game at one point and never come close to scoring on

But today is the anniversary of a completely different class of gutsy performance. Today we’re thirty-two years removed from the beginning of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope. The day dictionary-writers could finally complete their definition of courage.

The great thing about courage in sports, is that it increases the level of excitement around the game, and inspires us regular folk to be courageous. But interview any moderately humble athlete after a significant individual performance, and he or she will talk about the win. Getting the ‘W’. Either the performance plays second-fiddle to the team achieving victory, or it’s made unimportant by a failure to do so.

But as humble as those athletes may or may not be, they play for the team. They play to win. And the win means glory.

Rarely in sports are we privileged enough to have an athlete who plays for us.

So, as we all enjoy the commencement of another gruelling 16 team Battle Royal, and watch numerous players fight through injury to help their team capture the Stanley Cup—hockey’s greatest honour. Let’s remember Terry Fox—who played through the pain, laid his body on the line—not for glory, but for us.

What We’ve Learned

Yesterday was the opening day of the NHL Playoffs, so today, as the dust settles, The Young Offender asks: What did we learn?

We also learned that this man is a hero. Albeit an off side one.

1.) We’re going to get what we wanted in Pennsylvania.

I wrote an article yesterday entitled “Give Them What They Want”, it was in anticipation of the so-called bloodbath that the Battle of Pennsylvania promised to be. I think it’s far to say, in light of that supercharged affair, that we got what we asked for. Perhaps more?

I think there was a moment when Danny Briere rounded the endboards in search of the puck and suffered a harrowing blow from Brooks Oprik, only to jump up like a car-struck deer and continue his search, that I started to get the feeling that this game had changed directions.

It was a gutsy performance by Philly, and a nightmarish collapse by the Penguins: there’s no loser’s point in playoff overtime, something Dan Bylsma need not be reminded of today.

However, this series still belongs to neither team. If that game proved anything it proved an old adage that means considerably more come playoff time; it ain’t over till it’s over.

Expect Pitt to come back and win at home tomorrow.

Nashville captain Shea Webber slamming Henrik Zetterberg's face into the glass at the end of the game last night. This may be the Playoff's benchmark for suspendable offenses.

2.) It’s not the same ref out there.

My brain hurts a little today from the sensory overload of simultaneously watching both early games last night (earlyish for Nashville v Detroit). Nevertheless, one benefit to watching both at the same time was the  juxtaposition of officiating. Even in-game one bared witness to some grave inconsistencies. In Pittsburgh it was the Danny Briere non-offside call, and the Steve Sullivan icing-wave-off that garnered a second look. And then, to compare both games, it seemed like every time I looked over at Nashville v Detroit someone was shorthanded, while the refs in Pennsylvania had decided to, for the most part, put the whistles away (including on icings and offsides apparently).

It feels as though every spring there comes a time when officiating becomes an issue in the NHL. There have even been Stanley Cups awarded or not awarded based on lack luster calls (a toe in the crease anyone?). I will grant them this: it is the fastest team sport, and a contact one at that. It’s not easy. But still, games decided by blown calls are a source of constant latent heartbreak for fans. Just ask Leaf fans who remember the 1993 playoffs.

Why such a good player behaves like this I do not know.

3.) There’s doubt and controversy in Vancouver. Or, in other words, the Playoffs have started.

Last year it took until game 4. After building a pretty convincing 3 game lead on their nemeses, the Chi Town Blackhawks, the wheels fell off and they came within a goal of going out in the first round. It was mayhem. Just like that there was no confidence in Roberto Loungo, if not for the entire team. If there are NHL fans more fickle than those in BC I am unaware of them.

We also learned that the Canucks are, in the words of Dennis Green, WHO WE THOUGHT THEY WERE. All of the trademark tendencies that have seemingly turned the NHL fanbase against them were all present in last night’s game: head-snapping, diving, poor sportsmanship, foolish tricks, sticks in the groin, dramatics, etc. And how did L.A respond? Much like the Bruins did last spring; they played through it.

Now I would be a fool to say that I think this one game implies certain doom for the Canucks (I took them in my Pool… in 5, yikes). They will probably, like they have in the past, get it together and win the series. However, their display of the same tom-foolery that has plagued them in the past, that didn’t work against  a battle hardened Boston team, makes me think they’re still not ready for The Mug. Still not worthy perhaps.

Then again, I’ve been wrong before.

ouch.

Written by Jesse Borg.

Western Conference Playoff

They’re here. Finally. Games that matter. Games with so much anticipation built around them that the first drop of the puck will bring a cheer from the crowd, and every shift will see at least one player try and remove their opponent from the rink via body-check. So, with the pace of playoff hockey as a barometer for our Western Conference preview, let’s get right to it.

1. Vancouver (51-22-9)  vs. 8. Los Angeles (40-27-15)

This is a series that will provide a lot of future Bob McKenzie’s with their ‘shocking upset’ pick of the 2012 playoffs. There are a couple of legitimate reasons for this:

The first is Jonathon Quick. You’ll see Quick’s name if you so much as glance at the top five of any statistical category for netminders. He finished the season with 35 wins, a 1.95 GAA, .929 Save %, and league-leading 10 shutouts. He should be a Vezina candidate when it comes time to hand out awards, and he’s the kind of goaltender capable of stealing a first round series.

Daniel Sedin. Or Henrik. It's too close to call.

The other big one is Daniel Sedin. At this point, Daniel’s status for Game One is still up in the air. To be fair, if Vigneault knew whether or not Daniel was going to play, he’d be under no obligation to make that knowledge available to guys like me, or, slightly more important guys like Darryl Sutter, who might find it helpful to know what the Canucks first line and powerplay is going to look like. But since Daniel’s injury is a concussion, and trying to predict the success of a return from concussion is, to quote Sidney Crosby: “pretty hard”, it’s safe to assume that his health will be a major factor in the series. There’s no real need to explain why. The only advantage I can see to having just one Sedin in the line-up is that Jim Hughson won’t need to be on a first-name basis with Henrik all night.
Though he probably still will be.

But bigger than any legitimate reasons for predicting an upset in this match-up is the fact that most people just don’t like the Canucks. Actually, that’s not strong enough. The Canucks are widely regarded as the most hated team in the NHL. I, for one, am not going to dispute this. Anyone who wishes to should make sure to watch a few of Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa, Alexandre Burrows, or even Roberto Luongo’s interviews first. Here’s just one example for you: In an interview earlier this week with TSN, Burrows spoke about the importance of getting Daniel Sedin back in the line-up, saying, “He’s a world-class player, he’s a top player in the league, won the Hart Trophy last year…”  Nice try Alex, but I’m pretty sure you’re talking about Corey Perry.

So most people just plain don’t want to see the Canucks win. But as fun as it is for us Eastern Canadian hockey fans to imagine Vancouver going home in the first round (hopefully Burrows would cry), they’re still the best team in the NHL for the second straight year, and anyone who has watched them play can’t help but appreciate why. So, you might hear Canuck-haters around you in the bar tonight, talking about how the Kings are poised for an upset win, and the Canucks are poised to fall flat on their face, and one of those people might be me.

But don’t count on it.
Canucks in 6.

  1. 2.                  St. Louis (49-22-11)  vs.  7. San Jose (43-29-10)

I’ll admit it. The past few years I’ve been guilty of picking the Sharks to win the Stanley Cup based solely on the premise that you can only fail so many times. But, as a Leafs fan, I’m slowly learning just how faulty that premise is. So, I’m not going to make the same mistake again. I promise.

This series will be an interesting one no matter what the final outcome is. After years of being the favourite in just about every playoff series, San Jose finds itself as the underdog to the Almighty… St. Louis Blues? For real?

The Blues season is nothing to scoff at though. They finished tied with the New York Rangers, only two points behind the Vancouver Canucks for the President’s Trophy. Similar to the Los Angeles Kings, the Blues made a mid-season coaching change, bringing in the distinguished Ken Hitchcock, and like the Kings, the Blues success is all about defence. Two former Canadian team cast-offs in Brian Elliott, and Jaroslav Halak have combined to make St. Louis the NHL’s stingiest team this season, allowing only 165 goals against. Elliott returned to Ottawa in February to play in the All-Star game, and finished the season leading all NHL goaltenders with a 1.56 GAA, and a .940 save percentage.

But the Blues limped into the post-season, going 4-3-3 in their final ten games. And with the series opening on Thursday, a decision has yet to be made on who will start in goal.

On the other side, the Sharks battled hard to get into the playoffs, and went 7-3-0 in their final ten games. Not much needs to be said about their wealth of playoff experience, but there have to be some positives to take from consistently losing in the Conference Finals.

Additionally, San Jose wins the Star Power ‘looks good on paper’ match-up. Martin Havlat is finally healthy, Brent Burns joins Dan Boyle on the back end, and Logan Couture has proven himself worthy of being mentioned ahead of Thornton, Marleau, and Pavelski.

And if Ryan Clowe can continue to provide gritty playoff-style hockey alongside an ability to break up plays from the bench, the Sharks should be successful.

Damnit, I said I wouldn’t do this.
Sharks in 7.

 

  1. 3.                  Phoenix (42-27-13)  vs.  6. Chicago (45-26-11)

Toews is the swing-man in this series. No one is going to argue that.

Sure, Phoenix is a pretty good team, and last year’s throwaway from Tampa Bay, Mike Smith, is proof that Dave Tippet can turn any goaltender into a regular-season Vezina candidate (See: Ilya Bryzgalov), but let’s not kid ourselves, Captain Serious is the closest thing this generation of hockey fans has to Steve Yzerman. A healthy Jonathon Toews to go alongside Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, Patrick Sharp, and Viktor Stalberg (just kidding…or am I?) makes the Blackhawks a cup contender once again. No Toews, and the twenty-five people inside the Jobing.com Arena will be cheering very loudly at the announcement that hot dogs are now half-price in the lobby.

The Toews Factor

And then when they realize the Coyotes have won the series they’ll agree that that’s pretty cool too.

So I hate to do this to you fantasy players, but I don’t see any other way:

Toews in: Chicago in 5.

Toews out: Phoenix in 6.

 

  1. 4.                  Nashville (48-26-8)  vs.  5. Detroit (48-28-6)

Screw the suspense. Nashville is going to win this one. I know both teams have near identical regular-season records, but does anyone remember Shea Weber’s playoff beard from a year ago? That thing was awesome. Clearly even Weber’s face knows that the Predators belong deep in the post-season.

And if facial hair doesn’t do it for you , he’s got 19 goals, 30 assists and a plus 21 rating combined with the ability to physically dominate any of Detroit’s skill players.

Nashville’s defence doesn’t end with Weber either. If Detroit finds their way past him, they’ll be met first by Ryan Suter (7 goals, 39 assists, plus 15), then by arguably the best goalie in the league, Pekka Rinne.

And for those of you who remember Nashville as the boring team who couldn’t score from last year’s playoffs, take a gander at their league-best powerplay percentage this season: 21.6.

Adding former-Hab Andrei Kostitsyn and KHL superstar/guy who hit his own coach in the face with his stick (Alexander Radulov) certainly won’t hurt either. And throw in Paul Gaustad down the middle for even more size and defence

So, while Detroit is still the experienced, elite puck-possession team they have been for what feels like forever, Nashville gets the nod in physicality, defense, and yes, offense.

Oh, and don’t worry, Brett Lebda was picked up on waivers by Columbus earlier this season, so the only thing that could make this season worse for Leaf fans (Lebda getting his name etched into the Stanley Cup for a second time) is a non-possibility. So breathe easy, and feel free to cheer for the Preds.

Nashville in 6.

So, that wraps it up for the West. In my opinion, there really isn’t a dud series in the whole bunch. My advice is take a quick nap in the afternoon and stay up late for those 10:30 pm games.

 

Written by Roy Herron

 

 

 

Give Them What They Want

With the advent of 24 hour sports networks came the transformation of sports from a hobbyist’s endeavour to a cultural monolith. It is now as much about the story of the game as it is about the game itself. That being said, it is pertinent to address what the story of the NHL is and will be heading into the second season.

As monolithic as the big leagues appear, and as hard as their commissioners try to exercise control over how their products are marketed and perceived by their respective fans, there are always a few stories circulating at any given time. However, there is one story in particular that is beginning to stretch its neck above all others, and it involves one playoff series in the Eastern Conference. That series? Pittsburgh V Philadelphia.

Enter: The Bloodbath.

This is how Scott Hartnell of the Flyers described what he thought the series would look like. He went on, ““It’s great to have the hatred of the city against us. We thrive off of that.”

“I’m sure there will be a lot of blood. And a lot of goals.”

In his article in the Globe and Mail David Shoalts said, after the above comment, “Ah, finally, something about hockey.” He was referring to Hartnell’s admission that after the blood, there will be goals.

Which should raise the question, is all that blood not hockey? This refrain is pretty common amongst media types. You know, Cherry’s Pinkos. The wisdom seems to imply that all the blood obscures the goals and nice plays, which really constitute hockey. Goals, and passes, and saves, are what make up hockey; the hits and slashes, but necessary concessions. And fights? A bastard’s gambit. An obstruction of the supposed beauty of the game.

Can't this be beautiful too?

I’m not convinced that the ugly parts of hockey are any less integral to the sport than the pretty ones. Is a centre ice hit less of a play than a goal? They are all merely the moments that make up a game; the individual efforts and choices that define players; just battles in that long war of attrition.

Perhaps we should not think of these things catagorically. It’s not whether you remember a big hit more than a nice goal, because, one must admit that the most spectacular part of last Sunday’s Penguins Flyers game was the hit on Danny Briere and the corepsonding madness, it is whether the hits were nicer than the goals, and vice versa.

By that I mean that in a tight checking game that lacks great scoring chances and thus nice saves, a big hit or a good fight might be the most memorable part of the game. Conversely, in a game between Detroit and Vancouver, you are more likely to remember a so-called skill-play than a fight.

The very term “skill-play” suggests a hierarchy of skills in the NHL. Is hitting not a skill? Is fighting on skates not an even rarer skill? Our hockey discourse seems to suggest no, but your pulse when you’re watching either would suggest yes.

At the end of the day it is the violence in hockey, as in most contact sports, that builds excitement. Perhaps it’s our Freudian death wish, or that selfsame compulsion that forces one to slow down while driving past an accident, which makes us so keen to watch someone get pulverized. Whatever it is, it’s there, as evidenced by the fact that the Pitt:Philly series is widely considered to be, as my esteemed colleague Matt Davie put it, the “pièce de résitance” of the first round of this year’s playoffs.

So, my message to the NHL, (I know you’re reading this Gary, you spinster you): Give Them What They Want.

The fans have spoken time and time again. They want the blood. They want the pain, the battling, the hate; they love it. So now, as you try to make inroads in the US of A, and reach new audiences, do not turn your back on the blood. Embrace it.

Embrace what appears to be the unavoidable truth: hockey is equal parts finesse and fitness, pain and pleasure, offense and offence.

Finally, my message to the Pittsburgh Penguins: for the love of God, protect Crosby.

Can't this be a skill-play too?

Written by Jesse Borg

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Eastern Conference 1st Round Preview: And So It Begins…

With the playoffs starting today, it’s time to take a look at the first round matchups in the Eastern Conference. To be honest, discussion of this half of the bracket basically starts and ends with the Philly-Pittsburgh series, which by all accounts could (read: will) be a bloodbath and is in my opinion destined to be a classic. That being said, the Boston-Washington series possesses some intrigue (how long until Tim “Boston Tea Party” Thomas goes on a racist diatribe and rips into the left wing media?), and the New York-Ottawa series does feature a Canadian team (albeit the one that nobody really cares about). I tried to think of something positive to say about the Florida-Jersey series but I couldn’t; that series is going to blow. There’s really no two ways around that one (I’d apologize to the combined five Panthers and Devils fans but I doubt they’re going to read this anyway- kidding!).

So, without any further ado, onto the in-depth analysis.

(1) New York Rangers vs. (8) Ottawa Senators

For the Rangers, it’s all about Henrik Lundqvist. The Swedish netminder has been fantastic this season, leading the Rangers to the third best goals against mark in the league. To be honest, this is going to be a steeply uphill battle for the Senators as it is, and if Lundqvist brings his A-game I doubt Ottawa has much of a chance. I can’t completely write them off though: the Senators have a high powered offence (4th in the league) which gives them a puncher’s chance. Again though, the goaltending of Lundqvist and the Rangers’ fifth-ranked penalty kill should nullify any advantages the Sens may have. Sens’ fans shouldn’t hang their heads though: nobody thought they would be here anyway, and they still have the rest of Erik Karlsson’s career to look forward to (which, as of now, seems like it’s going to be pretty awesome)

Prediction: Rangers grind out the victory in 6 games

(2) Boston Bruins vs. (7) Washington Capitals

I’m hoping this one goes the distance, if only to see the progression of Tim Thomas’ rage as he is peppered with questions regarding his snubbing of Obama for a steady two weeks (note: if the Caps don’t offer the Prez first row seats behind Thomas’ net for at least one of their home games, they’ve missed their chance for comedic gold. Gold, I tell you!). All kidding aside, this is a pretty interesting series. The chronically playoff-hapless Capitals have disappointed all season and come into this series as the massive underdog; but I have a feeling that this psychological role-reversal could actually play in their favour, as they will have nothing to lose. Despite critics ragging on him all season, Alex Ovechkin still notched 38 goals on the year and seemed to be picking it up to finish things off. With Nicklas Backstrom back in the fold, and the ever-present possibility that Mike Green might get his act together, the Capitals might have the skill level to pull off the upset here (particularly if the aforementioned Tim Thomas starts getting a little wild in his net). The Bruins won’t make it easy though – these guys are just built for the playoffs (see: last year). Their tough, balanced attack up front, along with the Herculean Zdeno Chara on defence promise to make life difficult for Ovi & Crew. Somehow I doubt that Mr. Ovechkin will rise to the occasion.

Prediction: Bruins in 6, and the CBC’s Satellite Hotstove segment discusses Tim Thomas’ political leanings EVERY GAME

(3) Florida Panthers vs. (6) New Jersey Devils

Perhaps I was slightly disingenuous in describing this series earlier: just because it appears to be a snooze-fest doesn’t mean that one of these teams can’t make serious noise in the playoffs (hint: it’s not Florida). New Jersey seems like a pretty legit squad to me. The emergence of David Clarkson and Adam Henrique as big-time point producers to go along with Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise gives the Devils a lot of depth up front. And one can’t forget about the venerable Martin Brodeur, who is still a solid (albeit unspectacular) option between the pipes.

Conversely, if you lined up all 16 playoff teams in a row, and asked “which one of these is not like the others?” Florida would clearly be the answer. Due to the wacky seeding associated with division champions, the Panthers limp into the playoffs as the 3rd seed (and let’s face it, they only got that because Washington has been comatose much of the year). Florida boasts the only negative goal differential of the playoff teams (for shame!), and as nice a story as it is for them to have finally made the playoffs for the first time since the lockout, the carousel ride ends here. Their 10% chance (I made up those odds) of taking this series is completely reliant on the Versteeg-Weiss-Fleischmann line returning to the electric form they exhibited to start the season, and I doubt that will happen. The smart money’s on Jersey here.

Prediction: Devils in 5

(4) Pittsburgh Penguins vs. (5) Philadelphia Flyers

Ah, the pièce de résitance! After last week’s ridiculous brawl, the result of a massive hit on Danny Briere, we were all reminded of one fact: while there might be love amongst brothers in Philadelphia, there is none amongst compatriots. All hyperbole aside (and believe me, there is a LOT of hyperbole being thrown around), this promises to be an exciting series between two teams who share a mutual disliking for one another. The Pens have been flying high (how ironic) since getting Sid the Kid back off the IR, and boast a seemingly unfair dearth of talent (how are Malkin, Crosby, Staal, James Neal, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury on the same team?).

Philly are no slouches, however. Breakout star Claude Giroux, along with the ever pesky Scott Hartnell, power forward Wayne Simmonds, and the Jaromir Jagr Reclamation Project provide Philly with a scoring punch matched by few around the league.

With Pittsburgh’s potent offense, a lot will be riding on the shoulders of prized free agent acquisition Ilya Bryzgalov. While Bryz has largely been a disappointment in Philly (I’m being fairly nice here), a series win over the despised Penguins would erase any memory of previous failures. His play will probably determine the series, as most of the rest of the participants are known entities. While this is going to be a close series, I feel that the Pens’ possession of home ice advantage will be just enough to get them past the Flyers (barring an injury to one of their main guys, which is a distinct possibility).

Prediction: Penguins in 7, and there will be blood

So that concludes my primer for the first round of the NHL’s Eastern Conference playoffs. The action kicks off Wednesday night at 7:30 with Game 1 of the Philly-Pittsburgh series, which promises to exhilarate anybody with a pulse (and maybe some without). Here’s hoping for an exciting, well-played first round of hockey and I’ll see you back here for the second round!

Article by Matthew Davie.

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