The major storyline in the opening round of the NHL playoffs hasn't been focused where it should be. Not much is being said on the potential upset of the Presidents' Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks (down 3-1), or on the number of games needing overtime to determine a winner.
Instead, the leading story so far has been the number of illegal hits and fights in each series and the fines and suspensions handed out by the league. The thug mentality of hockey has engulfed the playoffs and turned the clock back by decades on what makes the game fun and exciting to watch.
The person that says fighting is necessary in hockey and makes watching the game more enjoyable is the same person that watches NASCAR hoping to see a horrific crash. That person isn't watching hockey for the sport, but rather for the destructive nature that the league needs to move away from in order to make the product flourish.
Enter Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes.
He delivered the nastiest, dirtiest and most vicious hit of the playoffs on the Blackhawks' Marian Hossa, causing him to be taken off the ice on a stretcher. Torres left his feet to make the hit (illegal in the NHL) and put his shoulder into the jaw of the unsuspecting Hossa, sending him crashing to the ice where his head hit not once, but twice. The hit was seen across the country by players and fans and still sends chills up my spine whenever I see it.
The hit by Torres was the culmination of how out of control the playoffs have become.
It started when Shea Weber did his best WWE impression by smashing Henrik Zetterberg's face into the glass at the end of their first game and continued with malicious cross-checks, a multitude of fights and constant "after-the-whistle curriculars."
Through the first eight days of the playoffs, nine players have been suspended and a total of 1,096 total penalty minutes have been handed out. To put this in perspective, a total of seven players were suspended during last year's postseason.
The reality of what has been going on may have finally set in amongst the players. In the nine games since Torres' hit on Hossa, there has been one fight (Blackhawks vs. Coyotes series) and a grand total of two major penalties. The hits have been cleaner and the focus has gone back to lighting the lamp and not laying out the opponent.
The players have taken it upon themselves to show restraint and not lose their competitive edge during games. They know they can still finish their hits with authority, but are no longer crossing the line when doing so.
Torres, ironically enough, has helped clean up the remainder of the playoffs by being the dirtiest player to skate during them. The focus can finally be on the outcomes of the games and the drama inside each series and not on the number of fines and suspensions handed out after each game.
For as wrong as the hit by Torres was, it's encouraging that something good came from it. Seeing one of their fellow players get carried off the ice on a stretcher seemed to snap each player back to reality and realize how quickly things can go wrong.
Thankfully, that realization came before something more serious happened. Unfortunately, it took a 16-year veteran being taken away on a stretcher for something to change.
Follow me on Twitter @JimPoljak and listen to my talk show Wednesday nights at 8 p.m. CT on www.chicagolandsportsradio.com.
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