If you’re a casual hockey fan I don’t need to tell you this but: the Bruins-Penguins series should be epic. For my Browns-centric friends, there’s a whole Steelers angle here that’ll help you understand the fuss if you don’t already.
As Browns fans, we look upon the Steelers with loathing and respect and bewilderment. They’ve consistently brought a mix of incredible talent with requisite dirtiness to deliver more championships than any other team back to their fans. The bewildering part is that the high success has been maintained for decades. Bradshaw and Lambert give way to Roethlisberger and Harrison. Even the ‘down period’ between those eras yielded six straight playoff appearances with freaking O’Donnell/Tomczak/Stewart at QB.
Now picture the same special kind of dominance except the ‘down period’ is 15 years instead of 25.* A team blessed with the two best players in the league yet also a cheap-shotting team who move a step beyond concussing players (Cribbs-MoMass-McCoy) and onto ending careers.
That’s the Pittsburgh Penguins.
What are the chances that a team could manage to build around the two best players in the league twice in 15 years? Yet here we are and the Lemieux/Jagr era has been followed up with Crosby/Malkin. The 90s supporting cast of Mullen HOF, Murphy HOF, Francis HOF, Coffey HOF, Trottier HOF, Stevens, Recchi, Straka, Tocchet, Barrasso gives way to the current Iginla, Letang, Neal.
(Ok, they’re not as stacked as that 90s team but the Roethlisberger Steelers weren’t as stacked as Bradshaw’s and still won two SBs.)
But unlike, say, a Red Wings dynasty where you just tip your cap… the Penguins manage to be hate-able and for Bruins fans the hate is personal.
Ulf Samuelsson ends Cam Neely’s career.
My all-time favorite hockey player and it’s not close: Cam Neely. You’ve never seen a player with the combo of big and physical and bad-ass yet with such masterful scoring touch. A once in a generation player completely different from the style of Gretzky or Lemieux. He was his own enforcer and that’s partly why his career ended technically at 30 but actually at 25. Here’s the video of Samuelsson’s infamous leg check. It led to myositis ossificans** the net being that his injured muscle turned into an inoperable brick of bone.
Following the aforementioned injury, Neely managed to play only 9 and 13 games, respectively, over the next two seasons, and never played more than 49 games in a season after that due to the pain associated with the now chronic condition.
Neely’s 50 goals in 49 games in 1993-94 was the greatest season-long performance I’ve ever seen. Harry Sinden’s subsequent low-balling on Cam was the darkest mark in the dark period Sinden/Jacobs/Kvartolov era. Fortunately for the Bruins, Cam forgave them and has proven himself to be a great president.
Ulfie stayed with Pens through their back-to-back cups before moving on. Not usually a fan of Tie Domi or head injuries but there’s an element of justice here.
Matt Cooke ends Marc Savard’s career.
Marc Savard was an important part of the 2010 Bruins. He was an in 2008 and 2009 and was trending to his usual 90 points as the Bruins’ first line center. Then
the cheapest shot one of the top-5 cheapest shots in the history of the NHL.
Matt Cooke was not fined, nor was he suspended or reprimanded in any way for this hit. Marc Savard is assistant coach for his son’s pee-wee team.
Don Cherry gets it 100% right here. It includes a highlight reel with about ten Cooke cheap shots:
But Matt Cooke is still playing and still cheap-shotting.
Which brings us to the height of hypocrisy in the form of…
Mario Lemieux threatens to sell because Sid Crosby gets concussion.
There’s a lot not to like about Pens’ owner Lemieux. I’m going straight his silence after his player ends Savard’s career and then his WHINING when it happens to his player.
“The NHL had a chance to send a clear and strong message that those kinds of actions are unacceptable and embarrassing to the sport. It failed,” he said. “We, as a league, must do a better job of protecting the integrity of the game and the safety of our players. We must make it clear that those kinds of actions will not be tolerated and will be met with meaningful disciplinary action. If the events relating to Friday night reflect the state of the league, I need to rethink whether I want to be a part of it.”
Don’t let the door hit you in the ass Mario. You’re the guy who signed Matt Cooke to a 3 year, $5.4M contract after the Savard cheap shot. Cry. Me. A. River.
As for Matt Cooke…
He got ejected for a hit from behind in Game one. The play was a simple dump-and-chase; puck tight against the wall; McQuaid had position; Cooke’s got nothing but back to hit.
Let’s see if he gets it yet.
Yeah, he doesn’t get it.
But … unlike the NBA’s Wade non-suspension … we don’t want Cooke suspended. On the contrary, we want Matt Cooke on the ice as much as possible. Preferably when Thornton or Lucic are around.
Here is why hockey is great.
I want to talk about Matt Cooke’s hit for a minute. It was uncalled for and it was dirty and I wanted to say something to both fanbases:
To our Boston readers, I’m sick of hearing Matt Cooke come from your lips, especially when the Bruins have a dirty player of their own in Brad Marchand.
To any Pittsburgh readers, I’m sick of you saying “Brad Marchand is so fucking dirty” when you have the king of dirty hits.
The NHL is fan-tastic.
* Also: imagine a world where ‘down periods’ represent ‘no championships.’ Pittsburgh’s down periods aren’t about losing records or missing the playoff. Pittsburgh’s down periods are measured by the time between Lombardi Trophies and Stanley Cups over your head.
** Peyton Hillis suffered this injury while at Arkansas.
2006: Suffered a left deep thigh bruise on the opening kickoff vs. Alabama (9/23) and did not return to the game…Sat out the team’s final four games vs. Mississippi State (11/18), Louisiana State (11/24), Florida (12/02) and the Capital One Bowl vs. Wisconsin (1/01/07) with calcification to the bone in his right thigh.
Given that it’s inoperable, Hillis’ short career was to be expected. I never understood why this wasn’t reported about Hillis. But being a Neely fan, I was much more tuned in to it. By the way, Hillis is currently an unrestricted free agent at age 27.