Mike Richards hit Tim Connolly from behind in Game 5, but got away with just a two-minute penalty. (Photo by Bill Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images)
We found out exactly what kind of stones Colin Campbell and those who handle discipline for the NHL have when they decided Monday not to suspend Mike Richards of the Philadelphia Flyers. We would have seen if they decided to suspend Chicago's Bryan Bickell, until the left winger revealed he had an injury that will require him to have surgery and miss the rest of the post-season.
But I gave up a long time ago trying to figure out the league’s rationale when it comes to matters of discipline.
Did we really expect the league to suspend the captain of the Philadelphia Flyers for a Game 7, even if his egregious hit from behind on Tim Connolly deserved just that? How that penalty was not a major and a game misconduct boggles the mind and what made it even more distasteful was the fact Richards went on to assist both the tying and winning goals at a time when he shouldn’t have even been on the ice.
He shouldn’t be on the ice for Game 7, either, but we expected the league wouldn’t act because, well, the NHL generally lacks the fortitude to make a decision of that magnitude. Bickell would also likely have played in Game 7 if he wasn't injured because, after all, the area behind the net is now known as a “hitting area,” which would undoubtedly have been extended to “a hitting area where a guy can leave his feet and drill a guy’s head,” just for this time.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that, for the second straight playoff year, a team is poised to do the near impossible and come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.
Because if the first 42 games of this year’s playoffs have taught us one thing, it’s that no lead is safe - not in any game, not in any series.
And it makes for wonderful, compelling and heart-stopping developments. In fact, if you’re not jacked up by what you’ve seen in the first round of the post-season this year, you either hate hockey or should immediately be checked for a pulse.
Of the 42 games that were played through Sunday night, there had been a total of 14 lead changes. That may not sound like much, but it is a mother lode compared to the dark days before the NHL lockout when a 1-0 lead could almost always be locked down. While the team scoring first this post-season still has an overwhelming chance of winning – those that have scored first are 33-9 so far – the excitement of the playoffs has, at the very least, created the perception that any game, no matter how dire the deficit, can still be won.
After all, three times in this year’s playoffs teams have come back from three-goal deficits to at least tie a game. The San Jose Sharks were four goals down in Game 3 to the Los Angeles Kings and won and the Washington Capitals, in a game that could have marked their transformation as a franchise, were three goals in arrears of the New York Rangers in Game 4 before winning in double overtime. On two additional occasions, teams came back from two-goal deficits to win games.
Two things that have tossed this year’s playoffs into a state of flux are suspect goaltending and the shattered myth of home-ice advantage in the playoffs. With the exception of Jimmy Howard in Detroit and Michal Neuvirth in Washington, there hasn’t been a goaltender in the playoffs who has not had his shaky moments. In fact, of the 23 goaltenders who have appeared in this year’s playoffs, only 12 have save percentages better than .900 and of the 16 teams in this year’s post-season, seven have used two goalies and the Flyers have used three.
As far as home ice goes, the hosts have a record of 18-24 in this spring’s playoffs and are 4-7 in overtime games. The Red Wings and Capitals were the only teams that didn’t lose a game on home ice in the first round.
When Jean Beliveau retired after helping the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in 1971, he did so because he felt he couldn’t maintain the high standards he had set for himself.
“I wouldn’t be honest to myself,” Beliveau said many years later. “At 41, you cannot perform the way I would like to perform.”
The decision cost Beliveau in a number of ways. It prevented him from winning an 11th Stanley Cup as a player and from becoming the Canadiens all-time leading scorer and perhaps the legacy as the greatest player in franchise history. In financial terms, he turned down a four-year contract worth $1 million from the Quebec Nordiques of the upstart World Hockey Association.
Until this year, no player had ever scored more points in his last NHL season than Beliveau, who had 25 goals and 76 points in 70 games that season. But should Teemu Selanne finally decide to hang up his skates after another remarkable season, he’ll be the one to carry that mantle.
Forty years later, Selanne finds himself in precisely the same situation as Beliveau. ‘The Finnish Flash’ is almost exactly the same age Beliveau was when he chose to retire and is coming off a season in which he finished eighth in NHL scoring with 31 goals and 80 points in 73 games. Selanne scored 1.1 points per game this season and Beliveau scored 1.09 in his last season. Beliveau was brilliant in his last playoffs and Selanne was just as brilliant, albeit in a much more abbreviated run.
As was the case with Beliveau, the Hall of Fame awaits Selanne. Let’s just hope for the sake of hockey he puts off induction for a couple more seasons.