The first round of the 2014 NHL playoffs hasn’t ended, but we’ve already seen a little bit of everything, including high-scoring games, low-scoring games, dirty hits and a series sweep. But the post-season is always more fun when fans have an old-fashioned villain on whom they can focus their disgust. And this year, they’ve got a couple gems who are so proudly roguish, they might as well twirl their moustaches while cackling with glee: Boston’s Brad Marchand and the Rangers’ Daniel Carcillo.
Carcillo and Marchand are arguably the NHL’s most talented agitators. Both willingly wear the hate of the opposition and their fans. And both were in prime rabble-rousing form Tuesday night. Marchand absorbed a knee-on-knee hit to his left knee and came up favoring his right leg, drawing criticism from fans and media who accused him of faking an injury.
If you want to get even more angry at Matt Cooke this morning, just Google the phrase “Matt Cooke changed” and behold the numerous links to stories written by my colleagues in the hockey media.
Scores of words have been spilled about the Minnesota Wild left winger, attempting to put a nice face on a player whose biggest contributions at the NHL level have revolved around the ending of seasons and even careers of his opponents. Sure, it’s easy to fall in love with a sweet off-ice story, about how Cooke re-dedicated himself to his family after his wife had a serious health scare (which, let’s be clear, I wouldn’t wish on anybody), about how he’s a charitable man who gives so much of himself to those in need…but that doesn’t change who he is on the ice: a danger to anyone in the wrong-colored jersey.
Trainer Andy O’Brien has a murderers’ row of clients and every summer he puts them through their paces. Sidney Crosby, Matt Duchene and Nathan MacKinnon are all on his roster and he makes sure his guys are ready for the season.
But now it’s playoff time, where the grind of 82 games – plus an Olympics-induced compressed schedule – gives way to the even harder road to the Stanley Cup. I caught up with O’Brien last week at the Gatorade High Performance Hockey Summit in Toronto to get a sense of how some of the NHL’s best are positioned for the playoffs.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh Penguins
Crosby locked up the Art Ross Trophy with 104 points in 80 games, so he’s been healthy. But he also played in the Olympics for Canada, winning gold and therefore playing until the final game of the tourney. Here’s O’Brien’s take on The Kid:
“It’s a real difficult season because it was a condensed schedule. For the players who actually had to go over to Sochi, they put a lot of stress on their nervous system and immune system by just going over there, then playing until the final game and going back to that condensed schedule. He’s really been preparing by making smart decisions on how to recover and working with the staff in Pittsburgh to make sure his body is fresh and ready. That’s the key in the playoffs. He’s learning every year from different playoff scenarios and it’s really just about managing energy. He’s done a phenomenal job of that this year.”
The Portland Winterhawks have dominated the Western League for years now and are back in the conference final thanks to a five-game series win over Victoria. But that last victory over the Royals was a brutal one, with several dirty plays marring the game.
To start, you have Florida Panthers pick Steven Hodges rabbit punching Pittsburgh Penguins blue-chipper Derrick Pouliot while Pouliot is fighting defenseman Joe Hicketts. Pouliot then KOs Hicketts, a small but feisty prospect for the 2014 draft.
But that wasn’t the end of it!
The NHL is being sued for the second time by a group of retired players over the issue of concussions.
The class-action lawsuit, filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court, seeks damages on behalf of nine former NHLers – Dan LaCouture, Jack Carlson, Mike Peluso, Dan Keczmer, Richard Brennan, Brad Maxwell, Allan Rourke, Scott Bailey and Tom Younghans – via the allegation the league unlawfully exploited its players by subjecting them to “extreme violence as a commodity” and unnecessary head trauma.
“The NHL has failed and continues to fail to warn its players of these risks and consequences of head trauma, concealing material scientific and anecdotal information from its players,” the lawsuit goes on to allege. “The NHL has failed to institute policies and protocols that could have and will protect its players from suffering or exacerbating head trauma sustained during practice or in games.” Read more
The last time Kris Letang played in an NHL game was Jan. 27. He began missing time due to a “mystery illness” which later was revealed to be a stroke. He discussed the scary details about his episode about a month later and then a few weeks after that, on March 17, Letang returned to Penguins practice and has been in full-contact mode.
Today, less than three months after his stroke, the Penguins announced Letang will return to their lineup against the Detroit Red Wings.
The first question a lot of people have about a situation as serious and concerning as this is why not just play it safe and shut him down for the rest of this season? Why not start again in September at training camp and return to action in October? What’s the rush?
Penguins GM Ray Shero discussed that today with the media: Read more
The Montreal Canadiens may have caught a huge break Tuesday when their first-round playoff opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning, lost No. 1 goalie Ben Bishop to injury. Bishop was in net in the first period of the Bolts’ home game against Toronto when he jumped to make a save and fell awkwardly on his left side:
Bishop left the game and suffered what the team would only refer to in the vaguest of terms: Read more
Windsor Spitfires right winger Josh Ho-Sang is a potential first-round draft pick with boatloads of skill. But an incident in his final game of the season has the junior in major trouble.
Ho-Sang made contact with London’s Zach Bell in Game 4 of a playoff sweep by the Knights, causing the defenseman to crash into the boards. Bell broke his leg on the play, most likely ending the 21-year-old’s Ontario League career. Ho-Sang was given a two-minute holding penalty, but the OHL reviewed the incident and handed him a 15-game suspension, to be served at the beginning of next season. Was it warranted? Here’s the play in question: