"Violence is killing this sport, it's dragging it through the mud. If things keep up the way they are hockey players will be nothing but actors, punks...It's my last game and I want to play it straight. No more nail 'em. No more **** with 'em. That's finished. I want to win the championship tonight but I want to win it clean. Old-time hockey. Like when I got started, you know? Toe Blake, Dit Clapper, Eddie Shore, those guys were the greats."
—Reggie Dunlop (Paul Newman), circa 1977
I need to start off by saying I am a Philadelphia Flyers fan. I know the team I root for marked their place in history in the 1970s by bashing their opponents' skulls en route to three straight Stanley Cup finals appearances, and to this day celebrate their roots as the Broad Street Bullies.
However, it is now 2012, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are not "bullying" anybody; they are playing some sort of cheap, dirty, ridiculous version of hockey that more closely resembles the Hanson Brothers than the style that led them to back-to-back finals appearances in 2008 and 2009.
"The best player in the game," Sidney Crosby, has been reduced to the whining, sniveling, cheap-shot artist who tripped Peter Forsberg and retreated to his bench as a teenager—and Crosby is supposed to be a captain?
The intensity of this series has been amazing, and the back-and-forth offense broken up only by gritty, physical play before, during and after each whistle has made Penguins-Flyers easily the best series of the first round.
But there is a thin line and Pittsburgh has two-handed that line in half.
Following the game, Sidney Crosby said, “We’re playing playoff hockey. (The Flyers are) doing the same things we are.”
But the thing is, no, the Flyers are not.
The Flyers are not targeting non-fighters like Kimmo Timonen and jumping them, forcing them to fight rather than play the game, as was the case when Crosby instigated (as he did all day, gutlessly) Timonen, and then Kris Letang jumped in to fight one of the most respected players of the past decade who, according to hockeyfights.com, has never dropped the gloves before in his 13-year NHL career.
The Flyers are not intentionally targeting opponents' heads, as James Neal did to Sean Couturier and Claude Giroux.
The Flyers have yet to cross-check an unsuspecting player in the throat and punch him in the back of the head while he laid on the ice, as Aaron Asham did to Brayden Schenn after Schenn laid one of the biggest, cleanest hits of the series on Paul Martin but received a charging penalty because, well, I don't know. Hitting a Penguin hard is a punishable offense these days.
The Penguins are simply not playing hockey. This is Slap Shot-esque thuggery and the Pens are embarrassing one of the best sports cities in the country and sullying what the Stanley Cup playoffs, and the game of hockey itself, is all about.
And at the head of it all is head coach Dan Bylsma.
The 2010-11 Jack Adams Award winner as the best coach in the league is anything but in this series, and any calls for Bylsma to be in the running for the award this year are completely unfounded.
Bylsma's postgame comments were rather telling:
"We don't want to be involved in those situations against this team. We want to stay whistle-to-whistle, minimize the number of penalties in the game and not create those situations. But, emotions are high and you saw on numerous times tonight it spill over for both teams."
If Bylsma's game plan is truly what he says, then he has completely lost control of his team and needs to be fired immediately.
And if he is covering up for his and his team's transgressions, he needs to be given the Gregg Williams treatment for clearly encouraging his team's obvious intentions—to injure the opponent's best players.
The league and Brendan Shanahan are partially to blame for this, as the supplemental discipline for Shea Weber and Matt Carkner's ridiculously senseless, non-hockey acts of violence were mere slaps on the wrist, essentially giving a free pass for others to step outside the game and attack opponents like the Stanley Cup is an excuse for the sport to become some version of pro wrestling and mixed martial arts and each fighter is armed with sticks and blades.
But really, the Penguins are only killing themselves.
Their complete lack of discipline has resulted directly in trailing the Flyers 3-0 in this best-of-seven series, and Philly has cashed in on almost every mistake the Penguins have made and the referees decided to call, scoring six power-plays goals in 10 opportunities.
But the real tough spot is the one Crosby has put himself in.
If Crosby is going to play instigator rather than captain, he is going to open himself up to the wrath of the league's true tough guys.
It would be a shame to see Crosby's attitude result in a shortened career, as teams will see no reason not to target his head when the Penguins skate with a purpose to injure as well—not a good spot for a superstar with a history of concussions.
Hopefully, the league comes to its senses and drops the hammer on James Neal and Aaron Asham. But my guess is that Asham's suspension will carry in to next year because he does not really matter to the outcome of the series and James Neal will be fined because he's a star.
I'm already not optimistic, though, as it appears neither Craig Adams nor Dan Bylsma will be disciplined for their shenanigans, most notably Adams' instigator penalty in the third period.
But hey, the Penguins are getting what they deserve, allowing over six goals per game of the first three contests.
As a Flyers fan, my only concern is how badly the Pens decide to goon it up in Game 4.
If the Flyers have a lead in the elimination game, what steps will Pittsburgh take to further embarrass themselves and the game?
If Game 3's hair pulling and glove slapping were any indication, the Penguins do not have a bottom to their classlessness, which is why Jody Shelley should skate on the top line with Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
This Flyers team is the best I have seen since the Legion of Doom teams and have serious Stanley Cup aspirations that should not be compromised by the dirtiest team in the league's total lack of respect for the game.
Luckily, this series shouldn't go past Wednesday.
Thirteen more knock knocks.