Little did I know that when I turned over my television to the NBC Sports Network on Wednesday night to watch game one of the Flyers-Penguins series that I would become hooked. It’s like the hockey gods finally shoved this great idea into the head execs at NBC and the NHL and made sure the plan came to fruition. I mean seriously every game…ON TELEVISION!?!?! This isn’t even comparable to when Turner Sports expanded the coverage of March Madness last year, because even though every game wasn’t televised there were still options to watch every game (the one time free March Madness Live internet coverage), or you could sit by your television as CBS juggled cutting back in between close games. You could still see every big moment of every game and in the end that’s all people really care about during the big dance.
The same couldn’t be said for the NHL. If your local team was in the playoffs, great you actually get to see how far they go on television. If you live in let’s say Denver and your favorite team is the Ducks then you were shit outta luck and if this happened before you had internet then you were really screwed. Hell three years ago if you were a Devils fan or Hurricanes fan that didn’t live in either market or didn’t purchase a special television or internet package to watch the games you missed one of the best first round series in recent memory. To boot Versus (the name of the NBC Sports Network at that time) didn’t show any bonus coverage of the games and instead gave us a C minus studio show featuring Bill Patrick, Brian Engblom, and Keith Jones. This year someone finally thought hey maybe not everyone wants to listen to three guys talk about the game that was just on, so we are now getting bonus coverage of live games that we can actually watch if we want to change the channel. Someone pinch me, it can’t be real. This is like having March Madness on acid, on ice, but that doesn’t mean that I want acid on the rocks.
So without further ado here are the 20 reasons why I’m hooked on the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs:
1. Every game, every night, because it’s the cup. Yes the tagline that NBC and the NHL came up with isn’t anywhere near as good as the history will be made campaign from a couple years ago, but the slogan couldn’t be more correct. The fact that I’ve been able to watch every game of the tournament so far is something that I still can’t get over. My nights have literally become filled with hockey. I find myself caring less and less about the NBA’s regular season because the better teams are resting up for the playoffs and the level of competition just isn’t the same as what I’ve seen so far in the NHL playoffs. Watch the two sports side by side and tell me that you don’t see the difference. Just because I can now watch every game was enough of a reason to get me to watch, but every game besides game one of the Rangers-Senators series has featured a combination of either gritty physical play, three goal leads that aren’t safe, fantastic goaltending, rowdy crowds, a highlight reel play that you actually talk about the next day, and overtimes… my god the overtimes (we’ll get to that later). That’s 17 quality games that have been delivered to your television sets, give me 17 quality NBA games over the last month…
And yes I didn’t include the MLB because you know we’re only two weeks in, not to be a stickler here, but thanks to opening day being a total debauchery I really don’t care about America’s pastime right now.
2. The Parody. In Bill Simmons’ The Book of Basketball (well worth your time) he says that “Ideally, you want a league with a distinct upper class and a distinct lower class”. In regards to the NHL’s playoffs I couldn’t disagree more. Anyone of the 16 teams at least has a chance to take home Lord Stanley. It’s total chaos. Think about the NBA playoffs, now this season could be a tossup for a number of reasons, (Miami isn’t meshing together the way they should, Derrick Rose can’t stay healthy, Memphis and Boston are true darkhorses, San Antonio is out for vengeance, Oklahoma City might still be a year away) but there are only seven out of sixteen teams that really look like title contenders. 16>7
People love chaos, unpredictability and the ability to gamble on something, that’s why March Madness is so f’n popular. If the NHL didn’t reseed the matchups after the first round it would be totally possible to have NHL brackets flying around offices. These playoffs are at that kind of level of unpredictability.
3. The Physicality. It was evident in game one of the Flyers-Penguins series that whoever survived the first round matchup was going to do exactly that, survive. Little did we know that the physicality that was on display in that game was just an appetizer for what was to come. In almost every series there has featured a moment or two where you sit back and say wow I’m not sure if that was legal, or how is there not a penalty for that, or how does he not get suspended for that, which leads me to…
4. The Cheap Shots. First let’s make light out of these situations. If Shea Weber hadn’t slammed Henrik Zetterburg’s head into the glass at the end of game one, well bah gawd would have never gotten this gem,
Hearing that makes me think about how much more epic and entertaining the XFL would have been if good ol’ J.R. and Jerry “The King” Lawler would have called the games.
We’ll get to this series later on:
Not even the goalies were safe from the cheap shots:
Remarkably Mike Smith stayed in the game.
Here are two cheapos from game three of the Flyers-Pens series that is sure to draw some attention in the Shanahammer’s office.
In Asham’s case he should be suspended for the rest of the playoffs and at least 15 games of next year’s season. There is no place in hockey for that type of play. James Neal should be suspended for game four because of his intent. The combination of aiming for Couturier’s head and leaving his feat in order to deliver the hit should be enough to warrant the suspension. If not Shannahan can fast forward the tape to a couple minutes later when Neal appeared to go head hunting for Claude Giroux, a classless move by the Penguins.
5. The downfall of Sidney Crosby. If it appears that I’m ganging up on the Penguins then you’re exactly correct. For one I’m a diehard Flyers fan, two I was thoroughly disgusted with Pittsburgh’s antics in game three (I’m not taking a blind eye to Philadelphia, they did engage Pitt, but almost every time a skirmish started it was because of something a Penguins player did), and three Sidney Crosby has shown his true colors.
It’s easy to understand why the Penguins are so frustrated. They’ve blown a 3-0 lead at home in game one, blew a 3-1 lead in game two and ended up losing 8-5. They’ve been out hit, out energized, but most shockingly outplayed by the Flyers. Sean Couturier has done a magnificent job defensively on Evgeni Malkin this entire series. Claude Giroux had a six point game. Ilya Bryzgalov though shaky at times, turned game two around twice with heart stopping saves. Perhaps Philly’s cross state rival just can’t handle the fact that they were booked as the Vegas favorites to win the Stanley Cup, but are just one game away from going home for the summer thanks to the franchise that they view as the red headed step child of Pennsylvania. Does that excuse the Penguins from what happened in game three? Absolutely not.
The first two games of this series were played with skill and grace. After game one I wrote that this could very well go down as one of the best first round series of all time. Now it will go down as one of the most memorable series of recent memory, not for the skill that was on display, but for the professional wrestling style mentality that over took the Wells Fargo Center. You could just feel that the game was going to break open at some point. After Max Talbot tied the game at one there was a skirmish that in most games would be considered a huge deal because everyone on the ice besides the goaltenders were engaged in some type of minor brawl, that would prove to be round one as both sides were just feeling each other out.
The real good stuff came at the 7:58 mark of period one. Crosby had just tried to stuff the puck past Bryzgalov, but the puck was covered up, so Sid the kid took a couple of wacks at Bryzgalov’s glove. This prompted a minor tussle behind the net, which included Giroux putting his glove in Crosby’s face. No biggie the refs separated them and everything seemed ok. Well behind the play Kimmo Timonen’s glove had fallen off and was laying on the ice, as teammate Jakub Vorachek went to pick the glove up, Crosby pushed the glove away with his stick. It was like watching a younger brother push a toy away from his older brother and then when the older brother goes to take it away from the younger brother, he cries wolf and then you’re stuck in your room for five minutes.
Timonen engaged with Crosby, which really meant that he grabbed him for a second before one of Crosby’s bodyguards (this time Kris Letang) came to the rescue. Letang, a legitimate fighter dropped Timonen a well-respected veteran in the league. Both were served game misconducts, but Crosby did not get an instigation penalty! He did end up sitting in the box to serve part of Letang’s penalty, but still he was the one that started the incident. I loved seeing Crosby sitting in the box talking shit to Vorachek, calling Giroux an f’n pussy, but just three minutes before he didn’t want to drop the gloves when Giroux engaged him, ahhh I’m frustrated just typing this. It was just garbage all the way around and I’m skipping over the fight that happened in period three, you want to guess who was involved this time? I’ll give you a guess, he was once considered to be the best hockey player in the league and skill wise he might still be. It’s hard to just forget about how good Crosby’s hockey IQ is, but after his display in this series he might want to make a phone call to Lebron to see if there are any spots left in the Hall of Super Villains. Especially after he dropped this quote after game three:
“There’s more than one team getting in those things. You can make a story all you want about us getting frustrated. They’re doing the same things we are. It’s intense.” (Credit to Adrian Dalter, si.com)
Yes Sidney we will make a story about you being frustrated because that’s exactly what you are and despite you’re best efforts you’ve answered correctly that you are the biggest child in a man’s league.
By the way in the final fight of the game, Scott Hartnell had his hair pulled by Craig Adams, that automatically disqualifies this from being one of the best first round series ever unless Pitt somehow finds a way to win three games and force a game seven.
6.The Hulkster. One bright note from the third game of the Flyers series was this gem that was delivered to Flyers fans who were in attendance.
7.The Vancouver riots…in April. For the second year in a row the Vancouver Canucks took home the President’s Trophy, but that only signifies regular season greatness and the folks in British Columbia are tired of having to settle with a regular season trophy. They are somewhat shockingly one game away from being swept by the Los Angeles Kings (somewhat only because a sweep is in play, if I would have filled out a bracket I would have picked the Kings over the Canucks). The Kings have the DNA to make a serious run into June because of their stellar goalie Jonathan Quick (he’s stopped 111 of 115 shots in three games). Team captain Dustin Brown, who was rumored to be traded around the deadline back in late Feburary has a team high four goals including the winners in game two and three. Whoever draws them in the conference semifinals is going to have more than a handful.
8. The Crowds. Every game so far has featured a raucous group of fans that aren’t afraid to express how they feel about a certain player on the opposing team (Crosby sucks! Alright I’m done bashing him…), or when their team almost scores a goal. I love the loud OOOHHHHHSSS! that echo around arenas when a puck crosses through the crease. It was great watching playoff hockey in cities that have been starving for it (St.Louis, Florida, and Phoenix even though the Coyotes have been in the final 16 four straight seasons, that area could really care less until the games actually mean something).
Any live event in general is that much better when there is an engaged audience. I actually enjoyed watching a Florida Panthers game because of the nervous energy that you could feel the crowd giving off after the Devils scored two quick goals to cut a 3-0 lead to 3-2. When you get excited about Panthers hockey you know you’re addicted to the playoffs.
9.The unknown goalie. Braden Holtby played only seven games in net during the regular season for the Washington Capitals; he made 30 starts for the Hersey Bears of the AHL and yet he is the main reason why the Caps are hanging around with the Boston Bruins. Sometimes injuries can be a blessing in disguise for a team and that might be exactly what’s happening in Washington. Holby only got the starting gig because both Thomas Vokoun and Michal Neuvirth are out with injuries. So far in two games in Boston Holtby has stopped 72 of 74 shots including a 43 for 44 effort in game two. He is the reason why there is real hope that the Caps can knock of the defending champions and only further add fire to the playoff chaos.
10. The Hulkster. C’mon one more time.
11. The media’s coverage of the fighting. It seems that the only way for hockey to make a splash on the front page of a sports website is by giving a feature on fighting. I clicked on si.com today and sure enough there it was. In big bold letters the title read, “The Playoffs are OUT OF CONTROL” by Stu Hackel. I get it, people don’t like watching chaos, they feel like it devalues the sport and for some they are turned off by it, but if Shannahan and the league office wanted to get rid of fighting they would have done so. There is an extra level of intensity that is added by the aspect of fighting and if it were to just disappear, the entire culture of the sport would change and not in a good way.
Having a rivalry, or the general sense that two teams just genuinely dislike each other is usually what creates the most memorable games in sports. So while there is no place in the game for the garbage that was on display during game three of the Flyers/Pens series, there is room for fighting. I just wish the media would focus more on the on ice play because they’re missing the best players in the game play at the highest level.
12. The Blackhawks flirting with disaster. In both of the opening round games against the Phoenix Coyotes, the Chicago Blackhawks escaped a loss in regulation by scoring a game tying goal with 14.2 seconds and 5.5 seconds left respectfully (man I love the call of the game two goal, gives me goosebumps). I watched the game with my girlfriend because the Blackhawks are her Western Conference team (Devils in the East) and she freaked out when Patrick Sharp tied game two and then freaked out again when this happened:
What a pass by Marian Hossa to Brian Bickell. If you’re a fan of overtime periods well then you’ve been watching the right tournament.
13. The overtimes. The geniuses in Vegas put the over/under number of overtimes in the first round at 17.5. So far there have been seven games that have went into overtimes, including two double overtime games. There is nothing better than overtime playoff hockey because every shot could mean the end of a game, it’s impossible to take your eyes away from the screen. Here are the seven overtime winners:
14. A PTI investigation. Anytime that Tony Kornheiser goes into a break on Pardon the Interruption and says that they have a PTI investigation coming up, you know that it’s going to be hilarious. After the overtime victory of game one of the Bruins-Capitals series well take a look and keep an eye on the guy with the big foam finger:
15. The Rangers getting more than they bargained for. Anyone that thought that the Rangers would just skate over the Ottawa Senators is foolish. Even though the Rangers were on top of the Eastern Conference for most of the season post all-star break the Sens are a feisty team that won’t go away easily. Goalie Craig Anderson can have flashes of brilliance like he did in game two, but the story on the ice so far hasn’t been about the plays that have been made or not. Rangers forward Carl Hagland was suspended three games for his crushing hit on Daniel Alfredsson, who is questionable for game three. Vezna trophy favorite Henrik Lunqvist might have the case of the si cover jynx just saying.
16. Doc Emrick overload. For the 65 year old commentator traveling from Pittsburgh to Boston, then to Philadelphia in a five day span, while calling four hockey games which isn’t exactly easy by any means, but Doc makes it seem that way. I love listening to his passion of the game. It’s just amazing that he has been able to call these games by himself in the box with Pierre McGuire doubling as his color, who has surprisingly been listenable… so far.
The only thing about Doc that drives me insane sometimes is when he’ll mention that there are say 15 seconds left on the power play, but say there’s a quarter of a minute left on the power play and we’re three quarters of the way through the second period. It’s like a math equation to figure out how much time is left, thank god there’s a graphic for me to look at.
17. GOOSE. On Friday night Kenny Albert was in the booth to do game two of the Philly/Pitt series and afterwards I thought man it would have been great if Goose was inside the glass. It would be even funnier if you took that scenario and put it in Joe Louis Arena. Pierre can barely fit in between the two benches; Goose would have to sit in the penalty box. Million dollar idea! Next time Kenny Albert calls a game have someone “inside the glass” and have Goose “inside the box”. Every time a player comes in for a penalty he would interview them and get their thoughts on the penalty they were called for. Imagine what would happen when he interviewed two guys who just got into a fight, it would be like having two wrestlers cutting a promo on each other. Imagine Brandon Prust and Zac Rinaldo going over the fight they just had and then talking shit on each other. We have to get this to NBC. It can’t miss.
18.Can’t get enough. Thinking about wrestling promos brought me back to the hulkster. So c’mon one more time, you know you’re going to laugh when he keeps moving after he does the hand to the ear.
19. Hockey town stunned by the country capital of the world. It wouldn’t be an upset seeding wise, but when do seeds really matter in the NHL playoffs? It’s all about the matchups, but for hockey fans the idea of the Nashville Predators beating the America’s most successful NHL team is hard to come to terms with. As fans at the Joe Louis rained down the free towels onto the ice in frustration of being down 2-1 to the ugliest sweater in the game it dawned on me that the Preds have a real chance of taking out the Red Wings. They have the recipe to do so: very good goaltender (Pekka Renne, .925 SV% in series), two of the best defenseman in the game (Shea Weber, Ryan Sutter) and an offense that can put up 3 a game, even if one of those goals is destined to come from a defenseman (Weber has scored twice in this series, he had nine total playoff goals in six previous series) and they don’t mind beating up on the Red Wings even if it’s totally cheap. If I show the Hulkster three times I have to show this twice:
The Red Wings are far, far away from being eliminated, but they are being overpowered in this series and when was the last time you could honestly say that happened?
20. Claude Giroux. You didn’t think that I was going to skip over number 28 did you? In game two Giroux set a franchise record for the number of points in a game with six. He’s been the Flyers best player the entire season (he finished third in points during the regular season) so it’s no surprise that he has been their best player during the opening round, but it’s so much more than that.
Giroux provides us with at least three moves a night that makes you say either one of these phrases: Holy shit how did he do that, Paul Holmgren is a genius, if you’re a Flyers fan you say I’m so glad that this guy is on our team, if you’re not a Flyers fan you say damn I wish we had a guy like Claude Giroux, or is there anyone else in the league who can do what he does?
When that question has to be asked it means that greatness is in front of you. If Giroux keeps this level of play up he’s going to win the Conn Smythe trophy (playoff MVP) and the Flyers are going to be in the finals. Yes if he continues to play at this level they will beat the dreaded New York Rangers. I’m not afraid of jinxing this team because there were no levels of expectations going into this season. The only people who expected the team to play this well are Peter Laviolette and Paul Holmgren. Laviolette because he doesn’t expect anything less than the best that you can possibly give him, Holmgren because he is a flat out brain when it comes to evaluating talent. He knew what he was doing by getting rid of Richards and Carter and making Giroux the top scoring threat.
Give credit to Sean Couturier as I did earlier in this column. He has played like a five year veteran instead of a 19 year old rookie, but he doesn’t put this team over the top, Giroux has that ability. Just listen to the praise that Giroux got after his six point performance in game two:
“In my 17 years of covering this league, this was the best playoff performance I’ve personally seen by a forward. When you start mentioning the names Wayne Gretzky and Mario Lemieux, you know it was a pantheon performance, and it sure was for the Flyers’ center Friday in Game 2 at Pittsburgh Friday night.”
Adrian Dalter si.com
Pierre McGuire said that Wayne Gretzky texted him saying that he was thoroughly impressed with Claude Giroux’s “greatness” so far. Think about that the best hockey player ever, nicknamed the “great one”, using the word greatness when describing Giroux. I think that basically says it all.
We’re only halfway through the first round and the two perennial favorites to win the cup are down 3-0, I guess the only thing to say is, WATCHA GONNA DO WHEN THE NHL PLAYOFFS RUN WILD ON YOU!!!!!!!!!!!
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