A Great Moment, But. . .
Another wonderful NHL moment tainted.
See, the lone conversation points this morning after a fabulous Game 3 joust between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins should be the following:
--The great story of Patrice Bergeron, who scored the OT winner for the Bruins, a player who was one of the very early major concussion stories in the NHL and nearly had his career ended several years ago. Instead, Bergeron perservered, and right now is the leading candidate for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.
--The gutsy story of Gregory Campbell, who had his fibula fractured by an opponent's shot but was stuck out on the ice penalty-killing and had to keep playing. He was clearly in agony and could barely stand, but stayed out there for 30 seconds or more until he was finally able to get to the bench. Like Nathan Horton's injury in the 2011 Stanley Cup final, Campbell's courage will almost certainly become a rallying cry for the Bruins.
--The way in which the Bruins, so close to early playoff death in the dying minutes of Game 7 against the Maple Leafs in the first round, are now poised to go to their second Stanley Cup final in three years with a roster that has remarkably little turnover.
--The stunning demise of the Penguins, who loaded up with veteran talent like Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray before the trade deadline, and now are set for another disappointing spring after their 2009 Cup victory seemed to set the stage for a string of championships.
All these things are true and interesting. But. . .and with the NHL, sadly, there's always a but. . . .
Bergeron's winning goal was initiated by a obvious hook by Jaromir Jagr (of all people) on Evgeni Malkin. Malkin is one of the great skill players in the sport, and Jagr was, and as Malkin headed up ice with the puck to lauch an attack on the Boston net Jagr used his stick to haul in the Russian and nearly lift him right off his feet.
It was the kind of play that was commonplace in the NHL about 20 years ago. So illegal, and so obvious. Heck, the way the game is supposed to be called now, Jagr should have been called just for putting his stick horizontally across Malkin's body.
But with Gary Bettman's administration having already embarrassed itself with the way in which the rules have been called both during the regular season and even moreso in these playoffs, both referees simply waved play on in the "let the players decide it" philosophy.
When will they understand that when they let the players decide it, usually the players will decide it by breaking the very rules the league is supposed to enforce? When will they understand that Malkin could only be stopped on that play by a blatantly illegal play, and that it's vital to the integrity of the sport to make that call?
When will they understand that when that call isn't made, but Daniel Sedin is called for a critical penalty in the first round, that it only encourages Vancouver Canucks fans to believe there's a conspiracy against their team?
It's embarrassing for the NHL. And inexplicable.
Fans, players, owners and executives of the Penguins have a right to be enraged this morning, but really, we're all just a little exhausted by being outraged every night while watching this circus, while watching talented players fouled at every turn in a league that simply cannot bring itself to enforce the rule book and so creates mayhem.
It's just sad. We should just be talking about Bergeron and Campbell this morning, and yes, I'm prepared for the usual accusations of being "negative" while pointing out the obvious truth in this case.
Craig Simpson, the Hockey Night in Canada commentator, had the stones and integrity to comment immediately after Bergeron's goal that it was Jagr's uncalled hook that created the opportunity. Good for Craig. He and I have gone back and forth a bit this spring in person and on Twitter over our interpretations of what's been going on in this post-season, but in this instance he got it exactly right while knowing the NHL, you can be sure, would have preferred that he simply accentuate the positive and talk about Bergeron's score.
It really is stunning how Bettman, who backed efforts to fix the badly broken game in 2004, has simply sat back and let the same thing happen all over again.
All it does is taint great moments. This administration just never learns.