Well, we've been through a week of the Stanley Cup playoffs, and perhaps the biggest surprise has been the brutality on display in a number of series, the blame for which can be laid directly at the feet of Brendan Shanahan. He set a tone during the regular season, letting everyone know that head shots weren't that big a deal. Winnipeg's Zach Bogosian was allowed to cross-check a player head-first into the glass, giving him a season-ending concussion. Ditto for Calgary's Alex Tanguay, who left his feet to throw an elbow into Jared Spurgeon's face, ending Spurgeon's season. No suspension - not even a hearing - for either incident. It's hard to act surprised, then, when Raffi Torres or Andrew Shaw or half the Pittsburgh Penguins decide it's okay to go headhunting, particularly when it's the playoffs and the stakes are infinitely higher. Cute little videos, Brendan, but in terms of actually enhancing "player safety," you've been an epic fail so far.
Outside of the thuggery, there's been a lot of entertainment and a number of surprises. To wit:
- We have to start with the almost-completed demise of the Vancouver Canucks. As predicted by my granddaughter (see video in post below), the Canucks could be eliminated tonight in what would be an amazing sweep by the L.A. Kings. It's been a particular treat to read the Vancouver papers the past few days. An overlooked angle: One columnist pointed out that the Canucks spend right to the salary cap, and their organization budgets for 6-12 home playoff games, each of which produce well over a million dollars in revenue. Get swept in the first round, and the team's balance sheet is suddenly off $10+ million or so. What a shame, eh?
- The collapse of the Pittsburgh Penguins. I greatly admire Mario Lemeiux, but he's been whining for 3-4 years about dirty play (while keeping Matt Cooke on the payroll), and now his club looks like the biggest bunch of thugs since the 2003 Canucks. While the team certainly has issues, most of the blame can be laid at the goalie skates of Marc-Andre Fleury, who has a .798 save percentage after three games. You can't win with that kind of goaltending.
- You also can't win with the kind of goaltending Corey Crawford is giving the Blackhawks. I really want to root for this Chicago team - mostly for Andrew Brunette's sake - but I can't help but feel there is some sort of fatal flaw in their game. They've struggled with injuries this year, I realize, but they just don't seem to be close to maximizing their talent. Perhaps they've tuned out Joel Quenneville, or the nagging goaltending woes make them play more tentatively, but something's wrong.
- The Bruins, even though they are having a battle with Washington, looked poised to make a repeat run to the finals. Experience is very valuable in the post-season, and these guys know how to find a way to win.
- This is way more than just a playoff series win for Nashville, it's the exorcising of demons. They have spent 13 seasons not just losing to Detroit, but having severe psychological damage inflicted as well. In the early years, half their crowd was made up of Detroit transplants, so the Preds had to listen to their home crowd cheering for their opponents every time the Wings came to town. In addition to the regular-season beatdowns, the Wings have won two previous playoff series between the clubs. Since 1998, the relationship has been like a big brother smacking little brother with his own fists and saying, "Why are you hitting yourself?" Now, the Predators are finally big enough to hit back, and winning this series will dramatically alter the relationship between the two franchises. I have a passing acquaintance with a couple of the Preds' front-office folk, and if the Bruins can't repeat, I wouldn't mind seeing Nashville win it all.
- If the Devils make it to the conference final, the Wild get an extra draft pick, so I'm rooting for New Jersey every night.
- Did I mention that Vancouver is down 3-0? Fun, isn't it?
- I was watching the Sharks-Blues game the other night, and the Blues were killing a penalty but still managed to get an odd-man rush and nearly score. The analyst said, "That all started when Brent Burns pinched in and wasn't able to get the puck..." Deja vu all over again.
- NBC is doing a great job of making every game available on their various networks, but given all of the talented analysts in the world, why would you ever put Mike Keenan in a studio? You need subtitles to understand any of his gibberish.
- I've succumbed to the world of Twitter (you can follow @timdroogsma) mostly because of the great running commentary from Mike Russo, John Buccigross, Wes Walz and my son Travis (@wildlybiased). It really enhances the game-watching experience.
- Did I mention the Kings are up 3-0 on Vancouver? To quote Louis Armstrong, "What a wonderful world."