Biggest Takeaways from the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs so Far
The Ottawa Senators and Pittsburgh Penguins played to the first double overtime of the 2013 NHL playoffs Sunday night, removing any lingering doubts that this postseason was just a mass hallucination put together in the subconsciousness of hockey fans trying to recover from the lockout.
Or was that just me?
Regardless, the playoffs are nearly three weeks old and us fans have had plenty of time to take in the sights and sounds.
Sidney Crosby Is Still the Best Offensive Player in the World (Haters Be Darned)
If there was any doubt heading into the playoffs, it should be gone by now. While players like Pavel Datsyuk and Jonathan Toews play more complete (for lack of better word) games in all three zones, when it comes to offensive production, no one can touch Sidney Crosby.
His vision is uncanny and his thirst for big moments is evident every game.
Onlookers stuck on the "I Hate Sid the Kid" bandwagon are only shorting themselves of some outstanding hockey. What Crosby is doing right now is special.
He missed nearly a month of action and drank milkshakes for several weeks. While that sounds awesome to the likes of people such as myself, that's no way to maintain an athlete's body.
Once again, when he returned, it was like he never left.
Crosby is in a three-way tie for the goals scored lead and is third in points despite having played two fewer games than everyone else.
The Los Angeles Kings Are the NHL's Version of Bruce Banner
For those who don't know, Bruce Banner is the super-intelligent "human side" of the Marvel Comics character, The Incredible Hulk. The Hulk, of course, is known for his ridiculously untouchable strength, which allows him to do things like put a planet back together.
Banner, on the other hand, is a soft-spoken scientist who wouldn't hurt an ant.
More so than any team in the NHL, the Los Angeles Kings seem to understand the important psychological secret of "turning it on" during the playoffs
So, the Kings are more like Banner during the regular season. Then they turn into a nearly unstoppable Hulk in the playoffs. They have a switch and they know how to activate it. Once L.A. gets rolling, it is hard to stop.
The Kings will have off days and let their guard down, and could even lose their current series with the San Jose Sharks, but this is a team that knows the regular season is just there to separate the top 16 teams from the rest of the pack. It doesn't matter one bit once the postseason rolls around.
Every playoff year, we hear the same refrains about teams like the Boston Bruins and Anaheim Ducks. "They are so big, and skate just as well as the smaller guys" and so on. How on earth can a team hope to down such giants when playing against them every 48 hours or so?
With speed—same as always.
(To clarify, that's not to say that Anaheim and Boston don't have speed. Quite the opposite, but I digress.)
Whether driving to the inside and drawing a penalty or notching a goal on a shorthanded breakaway, speed is just as dangerous in the playoffs as size. Having too much of either isn't a good thing, but it seems like quicker teams are doing better than usual in this year's postseason.
The Detroit Red Wings downed the Ducks using their foot speed, while the New York Islanders gave the Pittsburgh Penguins everything they could handle in the first round because of how fast they were. It caused matchup issues in both instances, and it was fun to watch guys like Michael Grabner and Damien Brunner skate circles around slower guys in the corners.
The Puck-over-Glass Delay of Game Penalty Has to Go
This call is going to end up costing a team a series. It's a scary thought.
Sunday's classic double-overtime thriller between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Ottawa Senators comes to mind. Not because the puck-over-glass delay of game penalty caused any issues, but because it could have.
How lame would it have been for that otherwise outstanding game to have been decided after someone on either team accidentally cleared the puck over the glass and into the stands? Talk about instantly deflating and anticlimactic.
Respected ex-referee Kerry Fraser put it brilliantly in his response to a reader question on TSN.com:
It was very disconcerting for me to see obvious infractions that went uncalled in deciding games and particularly Game 7's that were played in the previous round. These 'discretionary calls' ranged from body slams to majors for elbowing, cross-checks from behind or a major cross-check infraction to the face (minor called), attempted slew-foot, goalkeeper retaliation with a blocker strike to an opponent's head, charging, and boarding. The referee 'discretion' implemented at times pretty much ran the gambit with a "let them play" mentality.
While I'm not suggesting that this poor standard of enforcement is in any way acceptable, it further demonstrates the absurdity of the puck over glass rule as it now exists. Regardless of anything and everything that the referees chose not to call, a puck over glass is the singularly most guaranteed infraction that would be called at any time in the game, including overtime! Think about the absurdity of that scenario.
The Instigator Penalty Works Like a Charm
Depending on what kind of hockey you enjoy, this is either a good or a bad thing.
For fans of talent running rampant and winning hockey games, the fact that the instigator penalty seems to prevent outright thug tactics is a positive. For folks hankering for bench-clearing brawls and blood-filled playoff games of years gone by, it's not.
Fights at this stage are reserved almost entirely for blowout games in which the team on the receiving end is looking to make some kind of physical statement heading into the next game. Of course, this can occasionally backfire, as witnessed by those who caught Game 3 between the Ottawa Senators and Montreal Canadiens.
Contrary to what some fans may think, removing fighting (more or less) from the game doesn't decrease physicality. If anything, it adds to the importance of good, sound hitting.
One need look no further than the first round for proof: The Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues combined for more than 800 hits in that series without a single fight.
Rick Nash Isn't Sure How the Playoffs Work
Rick Nash didn't see a lot of playoff action during his time with the Columbus Blue Jackets. In fact, he appeared in just four playoff games since 2005. The number of important games he played in Ohio over seven seasons is already outnumbered by the number of important games he's played as a New York Ranger.
Nash is a 28-year-old playoff rookie who happens to have accumulated nearly 600 points in the regular season already.
Postseason hockey is different from regular season hockey. Anyone and everyone knows that, and right now, Nash is struggling to figure out how to translate his game to the playoffs. It's a learning process that he missed out on while playing on poor teams in Columbus.
He scored his first goal Sunday night, and his relief was evident.
(At least he has an excuse, unlike teammate Brad Richards, who the Rangers could scratch without anyone noticing.)
John Tortorella Has Respect for No One, Including His Own Players
John Tortorella has always been known for being short with the media and occasionally trying to start fights with reporter Larry Brooks. For a long time, fans of the New York Rangers have put up with his tendency to be a jerk because of the results on the ice.
Now, Torts may have finally taken things a bit too far.
After calling out Carl Hagelin for "stink(ing)" on the power play (a unit that Tortorella had all season to fix, but didn't), he proceeded to drop some very not nice words on live television during a live broadcast on NBC. The dreaded GD, as we called it in broadcasting school, will likely cost the network a hunk of cash through fines—not that Torts cares.
Not that he cares about anything besides the media's perception of him as a guy who just couldn't care less. This wasn't a game that aired at 9 p.m. on OLN. This was a prime-time playoff hockey game on one of the leading networks in the United States.
Using offensive language on live television is shortsighted and stupid. The game is bigger than any one man, player or coach. That'd be news to Torts, though, who is only concerned with being the biggest star of his Rangers team.
The Detroit Red Wings Are Far from Another 'Dead Wings' Era
Google the phrase "Ken Holland has lost his touch" for all the proof you need about how many folks were predicting the downfall of the mighty Detroit Red Wings (again) in 2013. As the regular season started to wrap up and the Wings hadn't secured a playoff spot, the bandwagon gained more momentum.
Too old. Too lazy. Too small. Too this or that.
Fans pointed the finger at Holland for not having a replacement for Nicklas Lidstrom—because guys like that just fall out of the sky every 10 years. Others suggested that Mike Babcock had lost the room. (Feel free to Google that one, too.)
Then the too old, lazy and small Red Wings finished the regular season with four straight wins in "must-win" situations and squeezed into the playoffs. But once more, they were greeted by a familiar foe in the Anaheim Ducks.
Again, detractors said Detroit didn't have the mojo to hang with Anaheim, which was coming off an outstanding regular season.
A Game 7 victory later, and the Red Wings were on to the second round to face the Chicago Blackhawks. After Detroit dropped Game 1, the bandwagon jumpers showed up again in full force and claimed that the 'Hawks had finally surpassed their rivals.
Then the Wings won Game 2. And I'm left wondering when people will stop trying to be the first person to correctly predict the downfall of Detroit. Quit it—you just look silly.
Sometimes Adrenaline Is More Important Than Experience
After an emotional and record-making (breaking?) victory in Game 7 over the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Boston Bruins were faced with a classic good news/bad news scenario. The good news was that they were advancing to the second round.
The bad news? They had lost three of their top six defensemen in the victory and were going to head into a second-round date with the New York Rangers relying heavily on rookies on the blue line.
Three words that rarely mix together to create anything but disaster are rookie, defensemen and playoffs.
Yet the Bruins have received monster contributions from Torey Krug, Dougie Hamilton and Matt Bartkowski. They are feeding on the adrenaline of playoff action instead of allowing the pressure to get to them—a state of mind that is usually reserved for veterans.
Another grand example of a young kid picking up his play out of nowhere is Jean-Gabriel Pageau. He's gone from nearly being sent back to the junior level as an overager, to barely making the AHL, to playing heads-up against the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby (h/t ESPN.com).