First off, it LOOKS great.
Hockey in HD is such a joy, that I almost don't mind NBC's cowardly and obnoxious editorial angle on the Calgary/Detroit series. Prior to the New Jersey/Tampa Bay broadcast, once again, the nefarious stench of Bettman was most certainly hanging in the air. I'd expect and embrace it from former Red Wing Brett Hull, but this from Ray Ferraro, the NHL color man once known as a little ball of hate*, but now mostly famous for spilling food on his shirt:
"We'll wait to see on suspensions, but the only thing the Calgary Flames did in the third period is embarrass themselves."
And this, from Mr. $20,000 dollars for a inspirational speech/snake-oil salesman Bill Clement:
"If you had a foul taste in your mouth this morning, it might be because you watched the end of the Calgary-Detroit game"
Doesn't that sound a little harsh?
Yes, there were punches getting thrown, and some cheap shots taken by the Flames, but to ignore that there was a strategy behind their actions and simply call them ignorant thugs is to do a disservice to what makes a long playoff hockey series so great.
After Daymond Lankow responded to a hip check with one of the most entertaining uppercuts I've seen in the NHL in years, Detroit didn't rise to the bait. So Jamie McLennan went into the Calgary net to relieve one of the best goaltenders in recent history who (according to the Flames) has been getting run into all series. Already losing 5-1 and about to go down three games to two in a hard fought series against a heavily favored opponent, Mclennan stands up for his teammate and starts swinging his stick. He is trying to light a fire under his team in a losing effort, and sacrifices what little postseason playing time he is likely to receive. He is saying loud and clear that if Detroit wants to beat this team, they aren't going to do so without a couple of lumps to remember them by. You know what that's called?
Taking one for the team.
Was it illegal?
Should he have been thrown out?
Was it an interesting, creative and aggressive way to up the ante for two upcoming must win games?
Well, according to NBC, it was "embarrassing," "awful," "classless" and "deserves suspensions."
There are plenty of instances in recent years of behavior on NHL rinks that deserves this kind of reaction. The Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore, the recent Chris Simon cross check on Ryan Hollweg's throat, Marty McSorely cracking Donald Brashear over the head with a stick were all awful and deserved the criticism that they received.
But the end of that Calgary game was simply not a similar situation.
When Clement, Ray Ferraro and Brett Hull all join the chorus of how terrible and shameful and awful the Calgary Flames behaved, it's quite simply poor hockey reporting. There certainly is an argument that can be made for some Calgary players getting suspensions. But what makes me angry is the utter lack of understanding or debate that there were logical, strategic reasons for Calgary to behave this way.
The Stanley Cup is on the line, the Flames have two games to win, and let's be honest- they're not going to be able to win them with Jaime McLennan in net, which makes him expendable. They weren't going to win game five and wanted to send a message. Yes, the Flames wanted to give the Wings some deep bruises, force them away from the front of the net, and fire up their team. They are an 8th seed, playing a very good Detroit team, and were facing two straight elimination games after being beaten soundly in game five.
So what would you have them do? Skate out the tail end of a 5-1 loss like gentleman?
Offer a gentle curtsy to the Detroit Red Wings and wish them well in the next round?
They had good reasons for doing what they did, and the story, if there is one, is how that strategy simply didn't work, thanks to the tremendous discipline and class of the Detroit Red Wings for not rising to Calgary's bait. The Flames had no weapons left. They weren't going to outscore them, so they thought they'd try outfighting them, and getting fired up for game 6. Detroit, realizing they didn't need it, walked away, and were denied the credit they deserve for weathering the storm of an aggressive, violent strategy by the Calgary Flames.
There is a way to respect the game and its traditions, and if the NBC team had explained to it's audience how classy the Wings were, instead of how awful the Flames were, the game would have been done a service.
Instead, once again, they came out in front of America, and spilled food down the front of their shirts.
*CORRECTION: 4/23/07: Oops. I should have known this, but Pat Vebeek was the "little ball of hate." Ferraro was known as the "big ball of hate." I was writing fast, and F'd it up. Thanks to Dougie for the catch.