Sidney Crosby saw Jakub Voracek’s glove on the ice and wasn’t going to let his opponent pick it up easily.
Crosby pushed the glove away with his stick and reignited a melee in a good Howie Long Jersey , old-fashioned Pittsburgh-Philadelphia playoff game that featured three fights, way more scrums and 158 penalty minutes. When Crosby was asked afterward why he did it, the Penguins captain responded: ”I don’t like them. I don’t like any guy on their team.”
Those were the days.
”It was awesome,” then-Penguins general manager Ray Shero said. ”If you look at it, it was wild. It really was. You had villains on both sides and people that hated each other.”
That was six years ago. Is a rivalry still a rivalry in a league that has made a concerted effort against over-the-top hits and where fighting is truly a rare sight?
NHL executive Colin Campbell once famously said the league sells hate, and at no time is hate more widely bought, sold, distributed and celebrated than during the Stanley Cup playoffs. The NHL’s divisional playoff format was brought back specifically to ignite old rivalries and create new ones, which has been a successful venture even if hate looks different than it did in the days of the ”Broad Street Bullies.” Playoff rivalries are no longer about dropping the gloves or laying out bone-crushing hits.
Teams now play fewer regular-season games against each other and are made up of more skilled players and fewer enforcers. Still, thanks to how tight the league is and the volcanic snowball effect of what a playoff series does to hockey players and coaches, rivalries might have a different look but they have plenty of smoldering intensity.
”Playing against teams with high stakes when there’s a lot on the line – win or go home – that’s how you have rivalries,” veteran New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle said. ”When it’s us or it’s them, that’s how you find those rivalries. The same guys for two weeks Justin Tucker Jersey , I think that’s how you build them.”
The first round in the Eastern Conference this year already has two old-school rivalries with the Penguins and Flyers meeting in the playoffs for the first time since their epic 2012 showdown, and Boston facing Toronto for the first time since 2013. In the West, Minnesota faces Winnipeg in the first playoff series between the two division rivals, which could heat up fast.
”The best thing about most of them are is the proximity to where they live, the close ones, but I think it needs a good playoff (series) against that individual team to create the rivalry full hand,” Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said. ”Until you play seven games in 14 nights where you learn to hate the opposition.”
Playoff series in back-to-back years made the Penguins and Washington dislike each other plenty, and they’d meet again in the second round if they advance this year. Nashville and Anaheim developed a nontraditional rivalry with intense series the past two playoffs, making that a potentially combustible Western Conference final.
When Predators players think about those Ducks series and other tense ones over the past several years, they know there haven’t been a lot of fights – and they’re not alone. The past four playoffs have included a total of 39 fights. There were 46 fights in the 1978 postseason alone and an incredible 85 in the 1988 playoffs.
”You get the odd scrum that turns into a fight and stuff like that, but there’s not too much fighting left,” Nashville defenseman Ryan Ellis said. ”You probably see the amount of blocked shots go up in the playoffs, the amount of hits – the little things that may not be on the stat sheet is kind of what I guess gets your team through the playoffs. It’s just little things like that that really is the playoff intensity.”
Boyle Weston Richburg Jersey , who has blocked 113 shots in 106 career playoff games, has seen more fights in blowout games deep into a series than at other times because there’s too much at stake to take a retaliatory penalty.
”A lot of times you see a lot of other guys turn the other cheek in a playoff series,” Boyle said. ”You don’t want something like that to make a difference in a series.”
Making a difference is more about scoring a big goal than leveling a big hit or punching someone in the face. Look at the Penguins’ and Flyers’ rosters now and the likes of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Voracek and Claude Giroux are far more likely to beat someone with a slick shot than their fists.
”I think the game has changed in how it’s being played out there,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. ”I think personnel has changed. But I think rivalries are rivalries. There’s always a heightened emotion associated with the games.”
So much so that retired player and former Penguins coach Ed Olczyk said of Penguins-Flyers, ”It only takes one player, one comment from somebody, where all bets are off and that gasoline tank will be ignited fairly quickly.” Crosby recalls more fights between the teams in the past – he was involved in two six years ago in the game he swatted Voracek’s glove away – but doesn’t want to downplay the intensity of this rivalry.
”You never know what can happen,” Crosby said. ”I feel like both teams are always kind of at their best, and there’s always a little bit extra in those games.”
Capitals defenseman John Carlson said he thinks playoff rivalries have gotten worse more because of what players can get away with, the physical toll ga
KANSAS CITY Rodney Hudson Jersey , Mo. — The two clubs opening the wild card playoff round at Kansas City’s Arrowhead Stadium on Saturday afternoon enter from opposite perspectives.
The Chiefs clinched their second straight AFC West championship two weeks ago and coasted to the finish. The Tennessee Titans fought to the final minute of the season in breaking a three-game skid to clinch their first playoff berth since 2008.
“We had a number of chances to get ourselves in, but unfortunately we had to wait until the last one to do it,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said. “I don’t know if that made it better, but it’s a good feeling.”
The Titans and Chiefs have some familiarity with one another. Tennessee visited Kansas City in Week 15 of the 2016 season, overcoming a 17-7 fourth-quarter deficit in rallying for a 19-17 win.
Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said his offense and quarterback Alex Smith missed too many opportunities in that game.
“We started out fast and then they creeped back, they got us there at the end,” Nagy said. “We had some opportunities to make some plays, we didn’t. We’ve all watched that tape, we understand what wrong and how to try to fix it.”
Tennessee left an impression on Kansas City head coach Andy Reid as an active bunch on both sides of the football with good speed, including with the mobile Marcus Mariota at quarterback.
“He’s a real smart kid,” Reid said. “Looks like he’s picked it up well. He’s got a pretty good feel for the pass game. He’s got good players around him too.”
The Chiefs remain wary of the scrambling ability of Mariota and his ability to make plays outside the pocket. Mariota finished the regular season with just 13 touchdown passes versus 15 interceptions.
“I don’t have to harp on that with him, he knows we’ve got to do a better job of taking care of the football, especially this time of year Russell Okung Jersey ,” Mularkey said.
Kansas City’s defense thrives on turnovers, which have proved highly predictive of the team’s success this season. The defense generated 24 turnovers during the team’s 10 wins but took the ball away just twice in six loses.
Mularkey said that’s indicative of Kansas City’s complementary style in all three phases.
“They do a great job of taking care of the football and they do a great job of taking it away,” Mularkey said. “Well coached, a lot of the same guys have been there a long time in the same schemes, they execute it very well.”
The Chiefs enter the game with a series of injuries taking a hard on their special teams. The team lost kick returners Akeem Hunt and De’Anthony Thomas to injuries in the season finale for the remainder of the season, leaving them with only wide receiver Tyreek Hill with significant experience returning kickoffs. But the team has been reluctant to expose a key offensive weapon to the kick return game.
The team is also battling injuries along the defensive line, with Rakeem Nunez-Roches and Jarvis Jenkins missing practice time this week. That could prove pivotal in a game in which the Chiefs hope to slow down the Titans’ rushing attack and contain Mariota in the pocket.
Running back DeMarco Murray has been ruled out with an MCL tear, leaving Derrick Henry as the team’s lead back against the Chiefs. Starting cornerback Logan Ryan and Da’Norris Searcy both missed practice Wednesday with an illness.
While the Chiefs’ veteran roster has four playoff appearances in four seasons under Reid, this marks the first appearance for most of the Titans’ players as well as the first for Mularkey in six seasons as a head coach. He doesn’t believe postseason experience makes much of a difference in matchup such as this.
“I don’t think so,” Mularkey said. “Everything gets amped up and that won’t be any different for this one. I don’t think there’s any advantage by having it.”
Kansas City may have the experience but they also history working against them. The Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium in 24 years. Smith wouldn’t mind seeing that streak come to an end.
“It would be nice to break that but you can’t add any extra motivation once you get to this stage,” Smith said. “It is tough to add any more motivation with historic streaks or things like that. We would love for that to be a byproduct of hard work and getting a win.”