The first round of the 2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs has been exhilarating to say the least. Only two teams find themselves in danger of being swept-- the Penguins and Canucks-- and both of those organizations were favored to defeat their first round opponent. With everything on the line, teams have, as expected, elevated their games, and in turn brought a new level of physical play.
And with added physical play comes both excitement and controversy.
Despite no team playing more than four games, we already have seven suspensions*, averaging roughly a suspension every fourth game. Of those seven individual punishments, three were three games or more. By comparison, during the regular season, there were only 35 suspensions with 21 lasting three or more games. To further complicate matters, there were several altercations that certainly could warrant a mandatory game or three off.
Even though some of the current suspensions were deemed too little-- Matt Carkner or James Neal easily could have received more than a game for their goonery-- or too harsh-- rookie Carl Hagelin took the brunt of Shanahan's wrath after he concussed fellow Swede Daniel Alfredsson in Game 2-- the rulings remain somewhat consistent with the precedent previously set. The only difference is the stakes.
Suspending a player for three or more games during the postseason is a series-changing event. If the Philadelphia Flyers win tonight, and they have a better chance of doing so without Neal on the Pens' top line. The Senators could have won all three games that Hagelin missed, taking the first round series. Who knows if the Chicago Blackhawks will have enough energy without checker Andrew Shaw, who was also suspended three games for hitting goalie Mike Smith. These suspensions are no longer only game breakers, they are series breakers.
Which explains why Shanahan hesitated to suspend Nashville Predators captain Shea Weber after he smashed Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass. Or #webering Zetterberg. Shanahan could have chosen to change the complexion of the entire series, freeing the Red Wings of Weber's physical game for a tilt or two, but he chose to let the two teams settle everything on the ice. And settle they did as Weber squared off against Todd Bertuzzi minutes into Game 2.
Following a grueling, 82-game schedule, you can only expect all 16 teams to fight for their right to continue playing. The stakes are higher, and therefore more dangerous as every player looks to finish their checks a little harder.
Creating a state of martial law in which every little infraction is looked at, and penalized, will only water down what most fans consider the best sport in the world.
The only real difference between the hits today, and say a month ago, are the implications of the momentum swing, suspension or injury. There's no reason to think that this sudden rash of 'big hits' will stop until the puck does in June. So let's put our temper our emotions and put out foil hats away, have another beer, and enjoy playoff hockey at its finest.
Our podcast 'RLD Hockey Talk' is LIVE every Wednesday afternoon at 1:00 ET/Noon CT. Some of our notable guests in past episodes have been Dustin Brown, Doc Emrick, John Buccigross, Dave Strader, E.J. Hradek, Elliotte Friedman and Jay Grossman.