(Isn’t it grand!)
Really, in a relative sense, what transpired on the ice in Philadelphia yesterday made the Middle East seem one big, happy, if diverse, family. Yesterday’s matinee jihad in the City of Brotherly Love was all consuming — it enveloped even Sidney Crosby. There were thugs aplenty in the Flyers’ 8-4, series determining mauling of the Pens, but it was hockey’s choir boy going gansta that has everyone talking hockey today. Well, that and the fact that this series is now reminding everyone of the NHL in the 1970s.
On-line reckonings of Sunday’s wreckage uniformly illustrated Flyers and Penguins players arms raised not in goal celebrations — though there were many of those — but rather with fists clenched, heads buckled by blows.
The weekend crews on 106.7 the Fan, heretofore known not much by name but rather by their myopic fixation on Skins-in-all-seasons, were snuff-film horrified into acknowledging how hockey had shouldered aside the winding down NBA season and early season baseball as grist for great broadcast chatter. We are a culture with a peculiar and grotesque patronage for extreme violence, so naturally what happened on the NHL’s postseason ice — especially yesterday — ensnared us. And yes, you really had to see it to believe it; we really did seem to have been catapulted back in time, to an age of bell bottoms, muscle cars, and ‘Charlie’s Angels.’
We had cross-checks to the throat, followed by punches to the back of the prostrate-on-the-ice head. We had springboard leaping checking in open ice, the better to maim by. We had seriously Code-violating fisticuff engagements, with assailants tackling targets from behind. Slashes to knees and ankles? No, more like medieval mace and machete swings meant to fell the victims into wheelchairs for the remainder of spring. And the Eastern Canadian finesse stars, Crosby and Giroux, were at the center of it.
By Sunday evening Dan Bylsma had devolved, too. I’d associated Bylsma with precocious success and a polished but fiery and inspirational comportment from his run on HBO’s ’24/7′ a couple of years back. Confronting Sunday evening’s cameras and microphones, however, Bylsma was halting and incoherent in his reflections. Really, he couldn’t make any sense of what he’d just witnessed. He was shell-shocked. Most of the questions posed to him were fair and thoughtful, but he’d typically pause, ponder, then stammer gibberish. He seemed a fish out of water, heretofore the coach of pretty poetry hockey suddenly overwhelmed by immersion in gangster rap street life.
Crosby gave better than he got all day long but managed actually to add a layer of infamy to his offensive aura of whining and peripheral, prim-and-proper pretty boy comportment. And for good measure he melted down, sniveling in style, about the madness in Sunday’s postgame.
There was nothing scripted or phony about all the malevolence; Crosby’s long been on record acknowledging his and his teammates’ disdain for their Philadelphia counterparts, and he reiterated it yesterday — I hate those guys, every one of them. They bring out the worst in our team. Yesterday we saw a great rivalry go medieval, because of the stakes.
Fines and suspensions no doubt will be levied, but there is no undoing what is congenital to these two organizations, especially in spring. They hate, and we hockey fans love that.
We don’t always do such a good job admitting it, however. There was of course the predictable piety — feigned indignation, really — reacting to game 3 all about Twitter late yesterday afternoon. “What an embarrassment!” the friars and monks of Twitter thundered, none of them of course averting their gaze, ever, nor covering the eyes of their progeny. Game 3 was V-chip material alright, but who among hockey families pulled the viewing plug? They and their young charges will tune in on time Wednesday night, and if things go sour again . . . savior it . . . before lecturing anew. To feel better about themselves, I suppose.
Really, in today’s American culture, isn’t that a lot like lawn chair protesting out front of 7-Eleven the sale of Playboys within?
It’s fair — and damned interesting — to wonder where we’re headed from here. Have any doubt about which first-round series is drawing the biggest TV numbers, or what interest there will be in Wednesday’s game 4? NBC may simulcast that game across all of its broadcast properties. And what message did Brendan Shanahan send about the league’s tolerance of violence when Nashville’s Shea Weber received merely a nuisance fine for trying the drive Henrik Zetterberg’s head through a pane of plexiglass?
Think the NFL wishes away the high-pitched pixels associated with Bounty-gate?
The NHL may just be getting in on that fun. There’s probably somebody from the league office already working on a license for a video game of Pens-Flyers game 3.