THE MORNING SKATE
If you watch just 10 minutes of the Flames-Mighty Ducks playoff series, you will invariably need to take an ice cube bath to soothe those sympathetic bruises.
If you switch over to the mayhem that is the Buffalo-Philadelphia series or the increasingly ugly Tampa Bay-Ottawa series, you better have rent-a-whirlpool on speed dial.
Even the most passive NHL playoff series, likely the wide-open Carolina-Montreal affair, has had more than its fair share of bumps and bruises, contradicting the notion that the new NHL stood for No Hitting League.
For all the moaning and whining from hockey observers about how the new standards of enforcement had destroyed the game's physical element, the first week of the NHL's post-lockout postseason has revealed an electrifying level of entertainment, including long stretches of impressive physical play.
The playoffs have always been about winning the physical battles, wearing down an opponent over a seven-game stretch. Traditionally that has meant the team that did more mauling usually prevailed. But now with more open space, less hooking and holding, the speed of the game continues to provide exponentially more scoring chances -- but it's also breeding a significantly higher level of physicality than was seen during the regular season. Simply put, players can generate more speed while forechecking and moving through the neutral zone, and are using that speed to make opponents pay the price for handling the puck. Presumably like hockey was meant to be played.
Game 3 of the Anaheim-Calgary series, won 5-2 by the Flames, saw the Ducks, considered less physical, taking the body repeatedly in a wildly entertaining game that had bodies sprawling everywhere. Calgary's Darren McCarty scored his second goal in three games and blocked a shot with his head late in the game to illustrate the nature of the series.
"Our game is tenacious, forechecking, chip it and go, all that stuff, and it was better tonight," McCarty told reporters. "It wasn't pretty but if somebody says, 'They look pretty out there,' that's a bad thing for us."
Although San Jose was expected to best Nashville because the Sharks own a significant edge in offensive talent, it is their physical play, especially on the forecheck, that is a key factor in their 2-1 series lead.
Down in Tampa, the Lightning and Senators, two teams that might not have been considered particularly nasty, approached that line Tuesday in a game that saw 129 minutes in penalties and five fighting majors. The pugilists included unlikely participants Dany Heatley and Vincent Lecavalier, and Chris Dingman was assessed 17 minutes on one third-period play when he tried to fight Ottawa agitator Chris Neil as the Senators rolled to an 8-4 victory.
We said it was tough. We didn't say it was always smart.
"We knew they were going to be tough," Ottawa coach Bryan Murray added. "I don't know if you should ever hate anybody, but I think that type of game was what we needed because it had a lot of intensity."
Speaking of intensity, the next clash in the Buffalo-Philadelphia conflict should prove interesting given the Sabres' domination thus far and the Flyers' melt-down that included Ken Hitchcock's must-discussed lashing out at counterpart Lindy Ruff after Game 2.
-- Scott Burnside
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