Under normal circumstances, the NHL Playoffs fill me with a sense of excitement.
I watch the intensity of the games and think about how there's really nothing else like it.
It's the game of hockey at its best.
Except when it's the game of hockey at its worst.
And I feel like that's what I've been seeing too much of this post-season.
And it hasn't left me excited.
In fact, it's gotten me extremely frustrated.
I'll call on two specific instances - Game 2 of the Rangers-Senators series and Game 3 of the Penguins-Flyers series - but it's not unique to those series. Last year's NHL Finals were sullied by too much of this as well.
It was just two minutes into the Rangers-Senators game when Senators defenseman Matt Carkner tried to bait Rangers center Brian Boyle into a fight by skating up to him and throwing punches at his head. (Carkner was ejected, but so was Rangers win Brandon Dubinsky for entering the fray.)
In the Penguins-Flyers game (and I could have picked any of the first three games of that series)...I don't even know where to start. Fights broke out every which way late in the third period...after more fights earlier in the game.
But here's the problem - the NHL created this culture. They allow fighting. What do they expect is going to happen when the stakes are at their highest?
The Senators realized they weren't going to out-finesse the Rangers...or at least outscore them. So they went out trying to intimidate them, take them out of their game. It worked. It resulted in an ejection of an important player and made the Rangers think about something other than hockey in their hockey game.
The Penguins and Flyers have each been scoring plenty of goals in their series - but almost every goal is matched by a throwdown. It's ugly. But it's the next logical step for a league where fighting is penalized, sure, but not outlawed.
I never really knew where I stood on the issue of fighting in the NHL.
I thought I didn't mind seeing a couple of tough guys square off every once in a while.
But I enjoy college hockey. Body checking is rough enough - the fights are not necessary.
I watch the games and realize it's no wonder guys are dying at age 45 - and it's no wonder there are those who are vociferously against the NHL simply because of the fighting.
I'm starting to agree with them. The NHL is on its biggest stage right now - the post-season.
And it's being ruined. New people coming to the game are going to think it's a game filled with a bunch of thugs, getting away on the ice with things that might get people arrested on the street.
It's time for the NHL to clean up its act. The fighting has to stop. Either get rid of it completely or make a fight an automatic ejection rather than a 5-minute penalty. It doesn't have to be a part of the game to draw fans.
The intensity of the playoffs alone is enough to get people excited.