With full arenas around North America buzzing in the NHL playoffs for the first time in three years, the first round was filled with energy that sometimes reached explosions and full penalties.
By the time almost every series reached Game 6 – and five had reached Game 7 – signs were already beginning to appear that made it look like a more traditional postseason.
Fines have dwindled, comebacks and drama have increased, and with eight teams making up some of the best in the league, the second round is still likely to be more reminiscent of hockey fans and old school players to whom they are accustomed at this time of year.
“The deeper you go, the more intense it gets,” said Colorado defender Kale Makar. “That’s why hockey in the playoffs is a lot of fun.”
In the beginning it was not much fun when the team that scored first won 26 times out of 32. In the first week there were also 14 games that were decided by two or more goals, not counting the empty net, and there was only one goal scored to come back.
Then there were nine wins from behind in the last 19 games of the first round, including the Florida Presidential Trophy won, which reduced the deficit by three goals against Washington. In the last four days, four games have gone into overtime – more than in the first eight combined.
As the games got tougher with more momentum weights, and the series went into decline, this example was followed by penalties. This is still the highest number of penalties in the first round in almost ten years – just over 10 per game, the highest since 2014 and averaging more than two higher than in the regular season.
“The standard is the standard: it’s not the standard of the regular season, it’s not the playoff standard,” said Commissioner Gary Batman at the start of the playoffs. “We keep telling officials, ‘We want you to call the NHL standard.’ And this standard is to increase speed and skill, and officials are doing it. “
Sometimes refereeing dominated the conversation during and after the games because there were more penalties and power games every night than in the regular season.
“I’ve never seen that,” said Tampa Bay winger Pat Maroon, the only player to have won the Stanley Cup each of the past three years. “It lost a lot of momentum 5 on 5. For me it was an amazing playoff. I have never seen so many penalties in the playoffs before. It seems to be a pre-season again with all the calls from both sides. ”
Retired defender Karl Kalayakov said the lack of flow makes some games “inaccessible.
“I’ve always been the guy who encouraged the referees to say the obvious because I think that’s why they’re on the ice, but there also has to be an understanding of the intensity of the game as the playoffs come,” Kalayakova said. . “What people really should be proud of (in) the hockey game is that there is pride, intensity and brutality that is played at this time of year, and it’s just taken away.”
Retired referee Tim Peel said the league office told officials to name the standard for the regular season. They are particularly diligent in supporting this because 20 are working in the first round and eight are going home before the start of the second.
“If you don’t name the NHL standard, there’s a good chance you won’t make it to the second round,” Peel said.
But he and others believe that penalties will continue to decline and become a less important factor in games. The fact that eight of the top 11 teams in the standings are left to fight for the Cup can also play an important role when players focus on staying more disciplined.
“I don’t know what to expect,” said Panthers coach Andrew Brunet. “Many times you see fewer fines (because) teams are getting smarter. They understand what they are calling for and that they may not let go. Players and teams understand the standard that has been set and are working on it to the maximum advantage. ”
AP sports writer Pat Graham of Denver has contributed.
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