The NHL’s 2009 post-season has a theme rapidly developing.
If you happen to be a netminder in the greatest hockey league there is, it’s probably not a theme you’re fond of.
You could see that theme – let’s call it “The Running Of The Goalies” – on display during both second-round games played Friday night.
Skating before their hometown fans, the Red Wings were the beneficiaries of Johan Franzen’s bull-like charge into Anaheim G-man (if a defenseman can be a D-Man, surely a goalie can be a G-man, right?) Jonas Hiller for Detroit’s first goal in a 3-2 Game 1 win over the Ducks.
In Boston, Hurricanes left winger Ryan Bayda barreled into pipe patroller Tim Thomas milliseconds after Carolina’s Jussi Jokinen scored the visiting team’s first goal in a 4-1 Game 1 loss to the Bruins.
Prior to Friday, there were many similar scenes of players pushing the envelope against goalies in the first round of this year’s playoffs – and for that matter, throughout the regular season.
There was New Jersey’s Martin Brodeur and the Canes’ Jokinen; Washington’s Viktor Kozlov and the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist; Philly’s Martin Biron and the Pens’ Sidney Crosby; Chicago’s Andrew Ladd and the Flames’ Miikka Kiprusoff; Columbus’ Antoine Vermette (and Jakub Voracek) and the Wings’ Chris Osgood; and Montreal’s Carey Price and the Bruins’ Stephane Yelle.
That isn’t even the entire list.
The lunacy has increased to the point where, at the end of the Wings/Ducks game Friday, Osgood was nearly tackled by Todd Marchant in a scrum that finished with the entire blue ice – and the inside of Detroit’s net – filled with players.
The CBC announcers called the scene a “rugby scrum.” I call it an extreme manifestations of a of a trend that should be worrisome to the NHL Players’ Association, as well as any league official, team owner or fan who believes the game can’t wait for another Nick Kypreos-on-Grant Fuhr type of season-ending injury before moving to better protect some of its biggest stars.
It wasn’t as if goalies were the only ones under unnecessary duress Friday. Wings center Jiri Hudler had his head hunted needlessly by Anaheim fist-thrower Mike Brown midway through the first period on a vicious hit away from the puck that earned Brown a game misconduct.
(If the NHL were truly serious about shielding its players from serious head injuries, Brown would be gone for the entire series or longer. It makes no difference Hudler returned to finish the game; anyone who saw how badly he hit – and bled all over – the ice surely shuddered and wouldn’t have been surprised if he was strapped to a spinal board and removed from the ice on an ambulance.)
The funny thing is, for all the talk of how big hits affect a team’s play, Bayda’s hit on Thomas and Brown’s assault on Hudler turned out to hurt both offenders’ causes.
Bayda drew a goalie interference minor immediately after Jokinen had knotted the score at a goal apiece and derailed any potential momentum the tired-looking Canes could muster. And Brown’s five minute major led to Franzen’s power play, game-tying goal.
However, the fact Franzen wasn’t whistled for taking out Hiller shows that something needs to change – and soon – when it comes to the goalie interference issue.
There were quiet whispers the league’s competition committee would debate it come summer, but the longer this championship tournament continues, the more apparent it is that an immediate intervention (along the lines of the Sean Avery stick-swinging rule change from last season’s playoffs) is the appropriate reaction.
Unfortunately, that would call for a clear outline of exactly what this league is attempting to sell to its fans – a league of stars playing hockey, or a league of stars getting injured playing hockey.
As we were able to see from the bleeding Hudler and the bowled-over goalies, that outline isn’t close to completion.
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Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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