By Rob Rossi
Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins skates alongside Marc Staal #18 of the New York Rangers in Game Three of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2015 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on April 20, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/NHLI via Getty Images)
We've seen a lot of playoff hockey in these parts during the Sidney Crosby era.
What we're watching right now is barely hockey at all.
It sure isn't what the sport should look like. And it definitely isn't worth the price of admission.
The 377th consecutive sellout crowd to watch a Penguins home game was awesome Wednesday night. A constant buzz of noise — not to mention a mix of cheering, chanting and jeering — turned Consol Energy Center into the Stanley Cup Final version of the old Civic Arena.
The House Sid Got Built rocked like the Igloo while the Penguins essentially fought for any realistic chance to upset the top-seeded New York Rangers.
And like every game in this series, which the Rangers lead 3-1, Game 4 was close, creating the sense of tension that is unique to the emotional pendulum that is the chase for Lord Stanley's silver chalice.
But Lord Stanley liked hockey.
So I'm guessing he would hate what the quest for his Cup has become.
It's not hockey. It's a joke.
I could not care less if playoff teams have been within a goal of one another almost 80 percent of the time during the postseason. The closeness of contests is not all that I like to write about hockey, and I'm guessing it's not the only reason anybody likes to watch hockey.
The best teams make the playoffs, so the games should be close.
They shouldn't be boring.
This first-round series between the Penguins and Rangers has been boring and ugly and only watchable if you own a vested interest — and, really, even then it has required effort.
Playoff hockey needn't be high scoring. Heck, the two best hockey games I've covered finished with scores of 2-1.
But I dare suggest tape-to-tape passes aren't too much to ask. I'm not sure I've seen more than a dozen through four games between the Penguins and Rangers, and these teams don't exactly lack skill.
Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Martin St. Louis have won two scoring titles each. Rick Nash is one of the premier power forwards of this generation. Paul Martin can move the puck with anybody. So can Keith Yandle.
I'm talking about supremely skilled hockey players, but all I'm doing is talking about them because their skill is not allowed to show.
The Rangers went deep into the opening period of Game 4 without registering a shot, as if it wasn't hard enough watching the Penguins do almost the same thing in Game 3. In the second period of both games, the teams treated the puck as though it were a grenade.
The block-first mentality has ruined offensive hockey. So have the defensive tendencies of even the most offensive-minded coaches.
Mike Johnston has transformed the Penguins into a chip-and-chase group of muckers. It's like he doesn't know he works for the most gifted player in the history of hockey.
With due respect to commissioner Gary Bettman, who attended Game 4, the officials aren't helping, either.
Bettman told the Trib's Jason Mackey “the standard (for officiating) has not been abandoned.”
It should be because the standard was unacceptable all season.
I don't believe referees are screwing the Penguins on calls, but it's clear there is enough obstruction in this series to make a fan hunger for the comparatively freewheeling late 1990s.
You know, back when nobody could get into the offensive zone.
Neither the Penguins nor Rangers have averaged 30 shots through four games. They've combined for 97 in the past 123 minutes of what I guess can be called action.
Look, the NHL has a history of allowing itself to become too defensive, and then the league fixes the problem.
But somebody needs to acknowledge there is a problem.
So I've got a solution for a man who I genuinely believe is the best commissioner in all of sports. This offseason, take the rule-making powers away from general managers whose jobs are always on the line.
Give that power to the owners, Mr. Bettman.
Because they're the ones asking customers to pay for a product that isn't any good — even in the playoffs.
Read more: http://triblive.com/sports/penguins/8222610-74/hockey-penguins-game#ixzz3Y8E5Dkhj
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