In spite of the series being on the verge of a sweep, the Anaheim Ducks and Winnipeg Jets are giving hockey fans by far the most entertaining series of the first round of the playoffs. And they’re doing it by turning conventional playoff thinking on its ear.
The biggest disappointment of the first round of the playoffs is that the Anaheim Ducks are just that much better than the Winnipeg Jets. It stinks, really, that this series might be over in four games and that we might experience only one more Winnipeg White-Out.
Because for this corner’s money, even with the series standing at 3-0 in favor of the Ducks, it has been by far the most entertaining of the playoffs so far. The Jets have had a lead for 79:31 through the first three games and the Ducks have been in front for only 11:21, which indicates that the Ducks are clearly coming as advertised as a third period team that has an uncanny ability to win one-goal games. The Jets are showing their collective lack of experience in crucial situations to be sure, but they’ve showed up. Man, have they showed up.
The best thing about this series is it reminds me of a rugby game, in that the players spend the time between the whistles knocking the daylights out of each other and competing for every inch of the playing surface and when they get knocked down, they simply get up and keep on playing.
The same, unfortunately, cannot be said about the Montreal-Ottawa series or, especially, the Vancouver-Calgary series, two series that have descended into chaotic disarray, where every perceived or real slight has to be answered with over-the-top-retribution, where “message sending” has run amok, with the main message being that these teams can’t seem to play with any sense of discipline.
For example, the Anaheim-Winnipeg series has been labeled the “Black and Blue Series” for good reason. The two teams have combined for 269 hits in three games and it seems there isn’t a player on the ice who can carry the puck more than two steps before being hit with a hard, clean hit. The Ducks have averaged 7.3 penalty minutes per game, the Jets 8.7. Contrast that with the Vancouver-Calgary series, which has combined for just 142 total hits. But the Flames and Canucks are the two most penalized teams in the playoffs, with the Flames chalking up 43.7 minutes per game, the Canucks 37.3.
Has the Ducks-Jets series been without its nastiness? No. In fact, Dustin Byfuglien should have received a major penalty for attacking Corey Perry after Perry scored early in the second period of Game 3. But here’s where the discipline comes in. The key to the whole thing was Perry’s reaction. Perhaps it’s because he’s been guilty of some fairly vicious skullduggery in the past, but Perry simply gave a “what the heck was that all about?” look, skated back to his bench to celebrate and kept playing.
And nobody is questioning the masculinity or toughness of the Anaheim Ducks this morning. So I ask you, which team really is tougher? The Ducks, who have the ability to keep their emotions in check and skate away and play the game, or teams such as the Canucks and Flames, which can’t seem to endure any kind of physicality without dropping their gloves and creating a bunch of mayhem.
There have been no fines in the Anaheim-Winnipeg series, none of the predictable public carping about the referees and the league. And yet, it has clearly been the series that has been the most physical, the most intensely battled and it features two big, heavy teams that can skate. The Ducks are the heaviest team in the NHL with an average weight of 210 pounds, while the Jets are the fourth heaviest at 207. Among playoff teams, only the Washington Capitals are heavier than the Jets.
Conventional wisdom among hockey violence apologists is that the game, particularly at playoff time, is played at such a high level of emotion and there is so much on the line that it’s only natural that things are going to get out of hand. The Ducks and Jets are proving that is indeed a load of bunk. Perhaps its because all three games have been close and the margin of victory has been so thin, but it’s been refreshing to see two teams stick to hockey and play it the way it was meant to be played.
The Ducks and Jets are proving you can have tough, hard-hitting, punishing and emotional hockey without things descending into the abyss of stupidity. It’s just too bad the Jets, as badly as they want to be the Ducks, aren’t quite there yet. Because that’s what has been the difference in this series and that’s why it may end up being a short one.
Any way the NHL can change its rules and make this one a best-of-11?