If you are a casual sports fan, you might not care about the National Hockey League, but the NHL playoffs are the most hard fought, closely contested sporting event you will see.
There are occasionally upsets, but the reason it makes for great TV is the intensity with which the playoff games are played. Rivalries form immediately between previously unfamiliar teams and tempers flare repeatedly on the ice.
With two big rivalries in the first round, the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs were primed to be drama-filled. One of those rivalries, the Nashville Predators vs. the Detroit Red Wings, didn’t disappoint in their first game.
While the game itself was close, a Predators 3-2 win, the main story line came after the final whistle. The Preds defender and All-Star Shea Weber gave Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg a cheap shot that glanced off his face, before taking Zetterberg’s head and slamming it into the boards.
Despite it being more like a wrestling move, Weber was only fined $2,500 and more importantly was not given a suspension. While I am a resident of Nashville and a hardcore Preds fan, even I think that Weber’s play was deplorable and deserved at least a one-game suspension.
The punishment handed down by NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan sent the wrong message to the NHL. The lack of a suspension gave the impression that now dirty play would fly in the playoffs. With that message sent, bad judgement has pervaded the playoffs.
The other big rivalry, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers, ended up being more of an street brawl on ice rather than a hockey game. There were a combined 158 penalty minutes handed out and three players were ejected. The final result was an 8-4 Flyers wins, but the goals weren’t as important as the fighting. Many casual fans love a good fight or two in a game, but when there is a fight every stoppage of play, it isn’t hockey, it’s mayhem.
Brawls have also broken out in the St. Louis Blues and San Jose Sharks series. Referees and players need to get the fighting under control. Playoff hockey is exciting for its intensity, but also for the good hockey that is played. There has been a lack of that with players only looking for vengeance rather than goals.
If you want to watch a fight, I hear the Hunger Games movie is pretty good. If you, like me, enjoy hockey the way it is supposed to be played, let’s hope the playoffs can provide some of that in the weeks to come.