Although the first 25 games (through Tuesday) brought in some of hockey’s biggest non-Olympics audiences, the newest viewers have been treated to chaos, violence and more cheap shots than a TNT ‘Roadhouse’ marathon. This isn’t how the uninitiated should be introduced to the NHL, not at the start of a two-month postseason that will air on every network with a multicolored peacock in the bottom right corner.
I’m sorry, first-time viewers. Some of what you’ve seen weren’t hockey games — not respectable ones — and a lot of the on-ice incidents that have generated the most discussion weren’t real hockey plays. I feel like the league has been invited into everyone’s living room and it responded by cross-checking a bar stool, slashing the appetizers onto the floor and leaving immediately after ramming the host’s head into the patio door.
The tone for the playoffs was set during the third period of Game 1 between Nashville and Detroit, when Predators defenseman Shea Weber forced Red Wing Henrik Zetterberg to do an impression of a suicidal sparrow, grabbing his head from behind and ramming it into the rinkside glass hard enough to crack Zetterberg’s helmet.
Shanahan missed an opportunity to go all Dean Wormer and shut down some of the extracurricular action, choosing instead to hand out an anemic $2,500 fine instead. That’s the same dollar amount Ottawa’s Zenon Konopka forked over after “verbally abusing” New York forward Brian Boyle during a pregame interview, because open mouths are TOTALLY the same thing as clenched fists.
Three of those fights came during a chaotic Game 3 clash between Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, where the teams combined for a jawdropping 158 penalty minutes in what will hopefully be the lowest of the low points. On Sunday, they switched stereotypes for three periods, with Pittsburgh playing the aggressor while Philly kept their heads down and you know things have gone Bizarro World when one of the few innocent players is two-legged nastygram Matt Cooke.
Even a desperate-looking Sidney Crosby squared off against Claude Giroux, an awkward sweater-grabbing slow dance that was like seeing a “My Honor Student Can Beat Up Your Honor Student” bumper sticker. Crosby and Giroux have been the unblemished faces and repeatedly bruised brains of the league, after both young stars missed time with concussions (most notably Crosby, who was limited to 22 games this season after playing only 41 the previous season).
Yes, fighting has a place in hockey. It’s as much a part of the game as blue lines and Barry Melrose’s mullet. I appreciate hard hit, hard fought games and am a frequent-enough visitor to Hockeyfights.com to know that they don’t carry t-shirts in my size. But those fights — the ones that even Lady Byng would’ve politely clapped for — have an honor that has been missing from the playoffs. Those fights are about policing the game, a hipcheck-and-balance policy that protects players from cheap shots and chippy play.
So, new NHL viewers, if that’s the part you’ve enjoyed so far, save yourselves some trouble and tune in to the next syndicated episode of the Jerry Springer show instead. You’ll see the same amount of hair pulling and haymakers without having to spend the commercial breaks Googling “What does icing mean?”
There are two months of postseason play left. I don’t want to lose the intensity, but the insanity can drop a notch or two.
PHT: After the Rangers and Bruins face off in Game 3 of their series (7:30 p.m. ET; Live Extra, NBCSN), the Kings and Sharks play (10 ET; Live Extra, NBCSN) Game 4 of theirs.
Video: NHL from NBC Sports
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