NHL Divisional Semifinal Notes – April 20, 2014

The respective fines levied upon Chicago Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville and Boston Bruins winger Milan Lucic for their recent crotch incidents illustrate once again how screwy NHL discipline can be.

Quenneville was fined $25,000.00 for grabbing his crotch in a rude gesture during an argument with a referee over a missed penalty call in Game One of the Blackhawks – St. Louis Blues series.

Milan Lucic (left) got the equivalent of a wrist-slap for spearing Danny DeKeyser.

Milan Lucic (left) got the equivalent of a wrist-slap for spearing Danny DeKeyser.

Milan Lucic (left) deliberately speared Detroit Red Wings defenseman Denny DeKeyser in the nuts with his stick and was fined $5,000.00.

So that we’re clear, a coach grabbing his junk to make a rude gesture is a bigger sin than jabbing a curved stick into another player’s balls.

And for those folks trying to defend the indefensible by calling Lucic’s spear “part of the game”, what game are you watching? Because it sure as hell isn’t hockey.

Oh, and I haven’t forgotten Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry spearing Dallas Stars captain (and Perry’s Team Canada teammate) Jamie Benn in the family jewels during Game Two of their divisional semifinal series. Perry’s transgression, however, was called “slashing” by the referee and Ducks winger receive a two-minute penalty, rather than the automatic five as required by the NHL rule book.

Lucic and Perry are talented players. I admire their skills, tenacity and physical play. I would love to have them on my team. That doesn’t excuse the cheap shots. If one of their teammates was on the receiving end of such nasty busines, Lucic and Perry would be among the first to voice their outrage. There’s no place in hockey for such dirty play.

 

It’s only early in the divisional semifinals, but in my opinion the Blues-Blackhawks series is the most intense thus far.

The first period of Game One saw five goals and was easily the most fast-paced, entertaining period I’ve seen so far in this year’s playoffs. The Blackhawks held a 3-2 lead until late in the third when Blues rookie Jaden Schwartz tied the game late in regulation. That led to a triple overtime marathon ended by Blues veteran Alex Steen.

Game Two got more physical, with Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook ejected in the third period for a high hit on David Backes which left the Blues captain woozy, forcing him from the game. The Blues took a 2-0 lead, the Blackhawks stormed back with three straight goals, followed by Blues sophomore Vladimir Tarasenko tying it in the dying seconds of regulation. That set the stage for the second straight overtime, ended by Barrett Jackman’s point shot which beat Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford through the five-hole.

This series has had it all so far. Back-and-forth scoring, plenty of physical play and a pace which the other series have yet to match.

 

The Tampa Bay Lightning, Dallas Stars and Minnesota Wild found themselves down 2-0 in their respective divisional semis.

The three clubs are stocked with promising young talent responsible for getting them into the playoffs. Unfortunately, their inexperience has proven an early detriment.

The Montreal Canadiens feasted on the Lightning’s mistakes through those two games, especially in Game Two. The Habs withstood the Bolts early charge and took control of the game, cruising to a 4-1 victory. Meanwhile, the Anaheim Ducks were able to to build and maintain leads by capitalizing on the Stars’ miscues . 

What’s interesting in the Wild-Colorado Avalanche series is the latter’s young talent has cashed in more effectively than those on the Lightning and Stars. Look no further than Colorado’s playoff rookies Nathan MacKinnon and Gabe Landeskog, who are among the top-ten scorers early in this postseason. The Wild are also a club filled with youngsters doing their best, but at this stage their skill level doesn’t match their Avalanche opponents.

The Lightning, Wild and Stars have enough time remaining in their respective series to rally back. Neither club, however, can afford to drop Game Three. That would put each into an 0-3 series deficit , all but assuring their eventual eliminations.

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets achieved franchise history by winning their first-ever postseason game, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to win Game Two over the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in overtime.

That loss isn’t sitting well with some in the Pittsburgh media. TribLive.com’s Joe Starkey accused the Penguins of arrogance costing them victory in Game Two, squandering a two-goal lead over the Jackets.

The Penguins undoubtedly hold an edge in depth of talent, but the outcome of Game Two proves the Blue Jackets cannot be taken lightly. They won’t allow themselves to be overawed or overwhelmed by the Penguins. I still expect the Penguins to win this series, but they’ll have to work harder (especially on defense) to do so.

 

Entering the divisional semifinals I expected the series between San Jose and Los Angeles, and the NY Rangers against Philadelphia, to be among the most intense and physical. 

The Sharks and Kings are resuming the latest chapter of their playoff “Battle of California” rivalry which began in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs. The Rangers and Flyers have a lengthy playoff history, but this year marks the first time since 1997 they’ve faced off in postseason action.

The opening games were, at least for me, a little disappointing. The Sharks steamrolled the Kings 6-3 while the Rangers capitalized on a third period double-minor to score twice on route to a 4-1 victory.

One cannot judge a series based on one game. I’m sure as these respective series go on the intensity and competitive levels will increase.