The most exciting story so far, however, has not been about the defending champion Bruins, but about the rivalry being described with so many four-letter words as the most intense in hockey, if not in all of sports. When the Philadelphia Flyers play the Pittsburgh Penguins, it’s as if a group of Olympic skaters imprisoned for murder have been told they can earn their freedom if they can walk out of the stadium alive, and oh yeah score some goals too. The violence can be exciting when controlled, but a few games in the series featured fighting at an egregious level. Multiple suspensions were handed out by NHL Player Safety Executive Brendan Shanahan, including 3 in one game to the Penguins. The heat of this rivalry is certainly rare. Bad Blood between teams hasn’t been this bad since the mid-90s Avalanche-Red Wings games. Like most rivalries, however, that midwestern hatred simmered down after the teams became competitively unequal. Look for the Pens and the Flyers to cool off whenever one (or both) does not make the playoffs consistently.
Playoffs bring out the extremes in any sport. The race for the top prize in a league on any level is almost always called a “battle.” Nowhere is the battle for supremacy more apparent than in the NHL’s Stanley Cup Playoffs. And, Oh Lord (Stanley), is it sweet to watch.
Hockey’s playoffs are already over a week underway, and already the blood, sweat, and tears have flown like the Mississippi and whatever the equivalent Canadian river is. The hometown Bruins entered their opening series against the Washington Capitals as the number two seed in the Eastern Conference. The series ended on game 7 in overtime when Joel Ward got a rebound past Tim Thomas in overtime to send the Caps to the next round. Interestingly, this series was the closest ever in the NHL playoffs, with all of the games being decided by one goal with three or less minutes left in the game, and six of the games going into overtime. There will likely never be a series so evenly matched again.
After defeating the Penguins 4 games to 2, the Flyers are one of the favorites to contend for the Cup. The Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues have also moved on from relatively easy series. The Vancouver Canucks, winners of the President’s Trophy with the best record in the League, were eliminated quickly by the Kings 4-1, so expect LA to push deep into the playoffs. The number one seed in the East, the New York Rangers, won game 7 against the Ottawa Senators to advance to the second round. The Cup is still anyone’s to take.
Thursday April 26th marks the end of the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs