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NHL Playoffs: Crossing The Line Between Physical and Dirty Play

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Welcome the the NHL playoffs, where dirty plays are all the rage.

It started when the Nashville Predators and Detroit Red Wings ended the first game of their opening round series. Shea Webber channeled his inner WWE wrestler, smashing Henrik Zetterberg's ahead against the glass. His penalty for the play? A measly $2,500 fine.

That was just the tip of the iceberg.

Tempers flared during the second game of the New York Rangers and Ottawa Senators, where Ottawa was looking for payback. Matt Carkner wasted no time, going after Brian Boyle just 2:15 after the opening puck drop. Carkner dropped his glove and sucker punched Boyle, dropping him to the ice. He was ejected and given a laughable one-game suspension.

But that wouldn't be all. Later in the game, Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin went high for a hit on Daniel Alfredsson, elbowing him in the head. Alfredsson would leave the game, and one of the most important Senators may be out for Game 3 tonight. Unlike the first two suspensions, Hagelin was given a well deserved three-game suspension.

-- Rangers vs. Senators StoryStream
-- Rangers Will Miss Suspended Carl Hagelin
-- Devils vs. Panthers StoryStream
-- Lawless Weekend In The NHL | SB Nation

The most egregious of this dirty play came during yesterday's Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers. The teams combined for 158 penalty minutes, including the ugliest display of unnecessary violence near the end of the third period. With The score already 8-4 Penguins, James Neal decided to throw around his weight. He left his feet to deliver a high hit on Sean Courtier, knocking the rookie out of the game. Shortly after that, he went elbows high into Claude Giroux, making contact with his head.

The Neal incidents were a continuation of an earlier melee, and ushered in a new low for both teams. Several players brawled after Neal was sent to the box, with Wayne Simmonds going after the Penguins forward when he skated to the box. Scott Hartnell went after Sidney Crosby, which drew a response from Craig Adams. Craig Berube, an assistant coach, yelled at Penguins players from the bench. The end of the game became a who's who of people left on both benches, as several players were ejected.

Is this really what the playoffs have become? It used to be that fighting in the postseason would rarely happen. Now, it seems almost commonplace. After every game, pundits are crying foul on several hits. The play has devolved from tight checking, defensive battles to who a collection of players simply running around the ice.

The league needs to crack down immediately. But even that provides little hope for hockey fans. Brendan Shanahan has been inconsistent in his rulings, leading to a guessing game when it comes to suspensions. Players have no fear of the system, knowing they can get off easy for these borderline hits.

This isn't playoff hockey. And, if it keeps up, the league will need to answer to its critics claiming it no longer cares about player safety.

(via Fred Murtz)