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Eric Wilbur's Sports Blog

The NHL Playoffs Have Devolved Into Playground Antics

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The single-most controversial item in the 2014 NHL Playoffs. AP Photo

Spearing. Squirting.

What’s next? Wedgies and wet willies?

Don’t look now, but the NHL Playoffs have devolved into playground antics, silly teasing, and retaliations that have already seen some offenders marched straight to the principal’s office, while the targeted tattle-tales, cry, “no fair.”

On Monday night in Montreal, the first player to taunt the opposition with the phrase, “Mr. Poopy Pants,” is getting a five-minute major. It’s a game misconduct to the first person who tries to play the “your skate’s untied” game. Terry O’Reilly has to be crying himself to sleep at night.

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You’d have to interrupt one of on-ice expert Pierre McGuire’s soliloquies about the whereabouts and eating habits of some player not within 450 miles of the game being played in front of him to ask him whether or not such instances like we saw Saturday night are common practice. But one has to assume Shawn Thornton isn’t the first NHL player to have gone all Super Soaker on an opponent from the bench.

Montreal’s P.K. Subban may be the first to turn it into an international incident.

Of course, on Sunday, Thornton was fined $2,820.52, the maximum amount allowed by the collective bargaining agreement for unsportsmanlike conduct, and a number that the NHL came up by scanning prices on dining room sets – after taxes. Meanwhile, less than 24 hours after Thornton had all of Montreal crying foul – and one Toronto columnist equating the squirt to spitting at Subban, and suggesting racial undertones at that –New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist doused Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby with his own water bottle at the end of the second period Sunday evening, as he departed the ice amidst a scrum that initiated when Crosby speared Dominic Moore.

On Monday, the NHL came down hard on Crosby and Lundqvist as well, delivering each of them…oh, wait, nothing. They got nothing.

Granted, Lundqvist’s bottle-spray was after the whistle, while Thornton’s came while the Bruins’ 4-2 win was only theoretically over. Besides, for all the whining he’s wont to do, Crosby didn’t stand in front of a throng of media and insist it shouldn’t be a story with a “wink, wink” understood only in Quebecois.

Then again, darling boy Crosby wouldn’t dare re-live the incident, lest Daddy Bettmann realizes what his star pupil did to kick things off.

If Milan Lucic is enemy No. 1 when it comes to the awful act of spearing an opponent right in the romantic region, then Nos. 2 through 84 are scattered throughout the rest of the playoffs. The Canadiens are already keeping tabs on Lucic in this series after the Bruins winger speared Alexi Emelin in Boston’s Game 3 loss. This, of course, is the same Emelin who went down after a spear in March as if Lucic had a hunting blade at the end of his stick.

In the playoffs’ opening series, Lucic was fined $5,000 for spearing Detroit’s Danny DeKeyser, an incident which has made him known as “The Spearer” in some NHL circles. The “Whoops, I got caught” video is indeed damning in Lucic’s case, but so are the clips we see of a handful of other players clipping and spearing opponents on a nightly basis in this postseason. Crosby is only the latest, yet he won’t receive 1/50th of the criticism that Lucic is getting. For sure, Lucic’s “classless play” is only Crosby’s “competitive edge.”

So, how are the judgment calls made on what’s a fineable or suspendable offense and what’s not? If the league isn’t playing favorites, it’s certainly doing whatever it does haphazardly. We get it, to make calls like these in a game with the speed of hockey isn’t always going to be an exact science, but would Thornton have gotten the fine had Subban not responded with his recognizable crybaby act? Zero chance. The whole thing would have whistled by like a tumbleweed.

Subban’s a tough character when it comes to defensive presence and a slap shot with a force that could shoot through walls. But when it comes to fighting his own battles, he’d better get on the horn to Discover and see if the company also offers turtle protection in addition to its frog coverage.

Case in point:

That there is classic Subban.

What’s concerning from a Bruins perspective is that this is exactly the sort of crap to expect in Game 6 Monday night, with the Canadiens clinging to their playoff lives. That means more prime-time dives than any hastily-created aquatic reality show can promise. In this same situation three years ago, the Habs forced Game 7 with both of their goals coming with two-man advantages.

If that doesn’t work, maybe they’ll just plead to the refs that the Bruins are hurting their feelings. That seems like a fitting reason to head to the box this postseason.


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