As the Bruins won the Stanley Cup last year, I remember talking to a good friend of mine about the state of hockey. We really started following the game during the down years of Gretzky, Messier & Co. and saw the emergence of skilled European players and snipers. Growing up, I remember the efforts of Forsberg, Hejduk and Roy for the Avalanche, Stevie Y and his Red Wings, Sundin and his Leafs. This is not to say that during that time the game was much less aggressive.
The fact of the matter is that the 2012 Playoffs is a different animal from what we have seen in the past and this trend started with the Bruins last year. Here are five reasons why this year's playoffs are so weird.
Let me get this off my chest first—Hagelin's suspension is a travesty seeing that Shea Weber was only fined. It only happened because Alfredsson was injured but Weber's assault against Henrik Zetterberg was just gutless and if it were a common player in his place, that player would've been suspended for the remainder of the season.
Having said that, like Brad Marchand last year, rookies have lost respect for their elders in this year's playoffs, and it's caused major tilts in some series.
Braden Holtby put on gala performances on both games (despite giving up Game 1 on a shady shot), Sean Couturier has run the Pens ragged and Brayden Schenn has laid the pain on that series.
Carl Hagelin has even knocked out of contention the elder Swedish statesman in the NHL, Daniel Alfredsson.
Let's face it, these kids just ain't what they used to be—but that's not a bad thing. In some cases they are playing several inches taller and several pounds heavier. If the playoffs this year are indicative of anything, it's that this decade may be very exciting in the NHL.
This is the year for nontraditional franchises to stamp their name in hockey history. The Coyotes are up 2-0 on the Blackhawks, the Kings are up 3-0 on the Canucks and the Predators are up 2-1 on the Red Wings.
The Coyotes, Gary Bettman's experiment, are currently owned by the league and are possibly out of town next season. The Kings are among the most notorious teams on the audience roller-coaster and have finally tapped into Hollywood after the Gretzky era. The Preds are a budget team on the verge of losing one of the legs on their defensive tripod (Ryan Suter).
These teams (except for the Kings) have little to no history in the playoffs. David Poile did an awesome job in light of financial restraints to position the team for a make-it-or-break-it run for the Cup. These teams have been shaking up the west and seem en route to causing some serious upsets.
Winning the Presidents Trophy means nothing for the playoffs. This year indicates one thing—if you're in the playoffs, you have a shot.
Let's look at a couple of cases:
This year, the Canucks are a shadow of last year's squad despite having added size in Sami Pahlsson and Byron Bitz. The latter managed to snag a two-game hook for boarding.
The Bruins are taking some serious heat in the third period from Washington. It seems that this year, Ovi is playing his best hockey with the game on the line, plus they might have found their goalie—despite being a rookie, Holtby has done an admirable job keeping the Stanley Cup champions at bay.
The Sharks and the Blues are in a deadlock and might be putting on the most exciting series this year. Both teams, albeit physical, aren't known for their fighting majors, but that notion went out the window last game.
Having a better regular season record and home ice advantage haven't meant anything this year.
Philadelphia has been able to poke massive holes in Marc-Andre Fleury's armor, helping them not to have to rely on Ilya Bryzgalov.
Despite Giroux's concussion earlier this year and the pair being notorious non-fighters, Claude Giroux and Kimmo Timonen have taken no abuse from Sidney Crosby. Brayden Schenn, for his part, has been the author of massive hits and shows no sign of relenting.
And in the west, let's just say that the last Sharks-Blues matchup didn't quite stick to the scrips. Despite his colossal size, Douglas Murray isn't a fighter. This year, it seems that both coaches managed to put a chip on their players' collective shoulders and every game seems like it's the last.
The playoff performance of goalies this year has been sub-par. Ilya Bryzgalov and Marc-Andre Fleury have been porous at best. Jose Theodore and Martin Brodeur haven't kept their series shut. Pekka Rinne and Jimmy Howard have been utterly peppered and Antti Niemi and the Blues tending duo have left their fair share of openings.
Apart from Tim Thomas and Braden Holtby, goalies haven't been the same force they were in the regular season. Instead of riding a hot goalie into the Finals, teams need to hone in on their shutdown pair and make sure their top lines don't concede goals.