The NHL Playoffs are now on, in case you didn’t know. There’s been plenty of talk of the lack of Canadian teams in the postseason this year, and what that likely means for NHL broadcasts in Canada. Last year, when all the Canadian teams were eliminated, Stanley Cup Playoff viewership split in half or so. With surging excitement about the Blue Jays season now being underway, it’s not a huge surprise that playoff hockey ratings are suffering in Canada a little bit.
But if you like good old fashioned playoff hockey, you should still be watching. A perfect example of that? How about the Detroit Red Wings – Tampa Bay Lightning series?
Folks on Reddit are suggesting this one photo pretty much sums up the Eastern Conference Quarter Final series between the Wings and Lightning. It’s almost enough to prompt that old dad joke – “I went to a fight and a hockey game broke out!”
While there’s not a ton of history between the two teams – other than the fact that longtime Red Wings captain Steve Yzerman is now the General Manager of the Lightning – this series so far suggests there’s been a little bit of animosity built up between the squads already. Just have a look at this line brawl that happened last night:
My first reaction was thinking that Justin Abdelkader (Red Wings #8) looked like kind of a jerk, just absolutely feeding Lightning winger Mike Blunden while he’s down, unable to defend himself. You can even see at the end of the brawl as he gets up – he’s clearly bloodied and looking to get some revenge while both men are on even ground. Unfortunately for Blunden and the justice-seeker in all of us, he wouldn’t get that opportunity… But I can’t help but think that Abdelkader might have a target on his back come Game 3. At the same time, though, Abdelkader got involved initially when jumping in to help teammate Brad Richards, who was double-teamed directly in front of the Lightning net by a couple defenders, and that’s how it all initially broke out.
In case you were wondering how the actual games turned out, Tampa currently has a 2-0 series lead – so part of it could be frustration on the part of the Red Wings. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see more of the rough stuff as the series continues. I mean, the Red Wings do certainly have a history as a team that never shies away from a rivalry.
Remember the rivalry between the Wings and Colorado Avalanche back in the mid to late 90’s?
There’s a pretty good write-up on it HERE, but I’ll do my best to tell the story through video.
In Game 3 of the 1996 Western Conference Finals, Slava Kozlov got away with this hit on Adam Foote that went uncalled, and left Foote bloody:
Claude Lemieux responded with a sucker punch to the mouth of Kozlov, and was assessed a minor penalty.
Then, Game six of that series was where things REALLY got started. It was this hit by Claude Lemieux on Kris Draper that really got the hate flowing:
Lemieux was given a major penalty and a game misconduct, but the Avs went on to win the game 4-1 and clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Final. After the game, Wings forward Dino Ciccarelli said of Lemieux “I can’t believe I shook his freakin’ hand.”
The next season, on December 17, 1996, Lemieux was not in the lineup for the Red Wings – Avalanche game in Denver. Even still, two Avalanche players – Rene Corbet and Alexei Gusarov – were knocked unconscious by Red Wings hits. There were even shouting matches between the teams coaching staffs in the hallways!
Then, the next installment in the saga is the one that everyone still talks about to this day. Known as The Brawl in Hockeytown, Fight Night at the Joe, and Bloody Wednesday… It was a regular season game on March 26, 1997. There were plenty of fights, including a total line brawl involving goalies Patrick Roy and Mike Vernon trading blows… I’ll just let the video tell the story:
After Darren McCarty really let Lemieux have it, he went on to score the winning goal in overtime as the Wings took the game 6-5.
The following season, on Remembrance Day 1997, Lemieux let McCarty know that he remembered what went down, and it took only 3 seconds after the initial drop of the puck for the two to tango.
Lemieux said after the fact “A lot of our guys fought their hearts out for me in that game last year, and this was my payback.” McCarty said the fight hadn’t changed his opinion much. “I respect him for (fighting) as a hockey player,” he says. “He had to stand up for himself, and he did. But I still have no respect for him as a person, as a human being.” That game resulted in a 2-0 Avalanche win.
Fast forward to April 1, 1998. Referee Terry Gregson handed out 228 minutes in penalties, including five each to goalies Patrick Roy and Chris Osgood after Roy challenged Osgood to a fight while another line brawl was going on. Roy said he did it to try and help his team, who at that point had lost 3 of their last 4 games.
The Red Wings emerged with a 2-0 victory from that one.
There was a little more to it after that, but nothing nearly as crazy as those big line brawls. The Wings-Avs rivalry has since cooled, likely partially due to the Wings’ long-awaited move to the NHL’s Eastern Conference… But who knows? Perhaps following this series, the Wings will have a new rival in the East to beat up on?
Oh, and while it’s not this particular series, might as well mention another questionable play from around the NHL last night. Watch closely as New York Islanders forward Casey Cizikas gives Florida Panthers defenceman (and last year’s top rookie) Aaron Ekblad a shot to the pills.
I don’t care who you are – that’s straight up dirty. On the ice or not, you should never punch another man in the junk.
However, I think I’m starting to understand why non-hockey fans look at us hockey fans like we’re insane… With stuff like this happening on the ice, it’s hard not to think it’s a little insane myself.