They’re still autopsying the Flyers’ exit from the playoffs in Philadelphia, an operation that will go on all summer. A quick survey of the hockey press tells the story, so far, of why they bowed to the New Jersey Devils. It involves (punctuation mine):
• the Devils’ relentless forecheck!
• the Flyers’ lack of offensive depth!
• the Devils clogged up the middle!
• the historical propensity of Flyers’ goalies to lose it during the playoffs!
• the Flyers big-time scorers couldn’t get free for quality shots!
• the Devils were old!
• coach Peter Laviolette’s adjustments weren’t sufficient!
• not enough Chris Pronger!
The Devils were old? The oldest team in the league, actually, which was (according to The Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle) “one reason why they seemed so organized and unflappable throughout the series.”
Okay, good. That’s a start. But what about:
• not enough hate!
Well, obviously. After the vitriol of their first-round wrestle with the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers just couldn’t summon up the spite to propel them past the Devils.
Which, of course, allowed the Devils to save up their reserves of acrimony for the ongoing semi-final against the New York Rangers. Oh, how they hate one another, these two teams. We know this because — well, for one thing, Devils’ goalie Martin Brodeur says so in the autobiography, Beyond the Crease (2006), Damien Cox helped him write. “I hate the Rangers,” he reported there and Lou [Lamoriello] hates them to death.”
More proof? In March, the last time the teams met during the regular season, three fights broke out in the first three seconds of the game. That would seem to suggest a certain pre-existing animosity.
And yet, in these playoffs, it wasn’t until Monday’s fourth game that the two teams really began to show their teeth. Most of the Hockey Night in Canada crew seemed to agree on that. “These are two teams who don’t like each other,” Glenn Healy felt the need to remind us, midway through. In case we’d missed it (we had), he was only too pleased to catalogue the nastiness, the little spears, the punches to the heads. And that was before the Rangers’ Mike Rupp swatted at Brodeur, prompting coaches Peter DeBoer and John Tortorella to make like they wanted to tear one another’s throats out.
None of which is really news. It doesn’t surprise anyone who keeps up with the game, much less trigger anything resembling regret or censure. Where else do you see the word hate used so casually, without question or qualification? Maybe you thought it was speed or excitement, in the NHL, that’s the product. It’s what the league’s current Director of Hockey Operations was talking about in 2007 in an interview with The Toronto Star’s Randy Starkman. “We sell hate,” Colin Campbell said. “Our game sells hate. You guys, the media, sell hate.”