Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Marc Methot #3 of the Ottawa Senators fall to the ice after colliding during the second period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2017 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Canadian Tire Centre on May 23, 2017 in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)
No matter what NHL spokesmen disguised as media say, the caliber of hockey in these playoffs is laughably bad. Unless you like face-offs and icing.
Speed and skill give way to no-calls and more attrition than Omaha Beach. Whack it out, whack it in, whack it toward the goal and try to whack it again. Clog the neutral zone. Clog the “house.” Commit penalties secure in the knowledge that 90 percent of them won’t get called. Hit foes in the head all you want. The NHL doesn’t protect its best player, or anybody else.
The triumphant moment comes when the puck randomly ricochets into the net off one of the half-dozen or so people gathered at the blue paint. It’s the stuff dreams and highlight reels are made of.
Hockey is played one way for an 82-game regular season. Then its championship is decided by playing a totally different, less compelling version of the game. It’s ludicrous. Like Jimmy Page bowing a ukulele.
Apply the same lack of logic to the NFL. The playoffs arrive, and it’s OK to tackle Antonio Brown while he’s running his pattern.
Sidney Crosby got his eyes raked, got popped in the head and got squirted with water during Tuesday’s Game 6. (Regarding Mike Hoffman doing the latter: Are you 11 years old?) No call on any of the above.
Crosby gets beat on like a piñata, but the NHL keeps expecting him to spit out candy. To be the poster boy. The face of the game. Next time the NHL wants Crosby to beat their drum, he should tell them to call Marc Methot.
If the rules are properly applied (not perfectly, but like they are during the regular season), the Penguins are long since in the Stanley Cup Final.
As it is, the NHL is a game away from getting its just desserts: A final that pits America’s No. 29 media market (without a star in sight) against a bunch of grit guys who play in small-town Canada. (Every Canadian city but Toronto is “small-town Canada.”) The “Amazing Abs” infomercial will get higher TV ratings. The No. 16 seed vs. the No. 12 seed. Mediocrity on parade.
That’s not to blame the NHL’s farcical product for the Penguins’ Game 6 loss. Blame Craig Anderson. Pointing fingers elsewhere is silly.
The Ottawa goalie stopped 45 shots, including a fistful of excellent chances. He didn’t wither under a constant pounding, or under the specter of having been chased from Game 5 after allowing four goals in less than 19 minutes.
The Penguins were the better team Tuesday. They will still be the better team Thursday night. But will the game play out that way?
The Penguins have gone through the playoffs in backward fashion. They deleted the No. 4 and No. 1 seeds in the first two rounds. Now they’re battling the No. 12 seed, and would play the No. 16 seed in the final.
Many complained about a format that forced the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds to play in the second round.
But the NHL playoffs are just too long. That’s the real problem. Too many games, and those games are crammed into a window that’s too brief. That leads to too many injuries, which further dilutes a product that’s badly mismanaged. There no solution that doesn’t sacrifice revenue. So live with it.
I watch out of rote. Rare is the occasion when I’m entertained.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).