In Game 4 of the first round series between the Kings and Sharks last night, the long-time rivals managed to compile 74 penalty minutes. Many of those came in the third period where a series of scrums and fights took place.
In contrast, the ongoing first-round series between the Penguins and Blue Jackets, hardly a time-honored rivalry, has produced all of 86 penalty minutes.
Other series in this first round, particularly those in the Western Conference, have produced heated moments resulting in fights or even suspensions. Penguins-Blue Jackets, while certainly physical, has barely led to scrums after the whistle. It's a huge contrast from two years ago when this Penguins team led the playoffs in average penalty minutes per game at 24.9 after a heated but quick six-game quarterfinal series with the rival Flyers.
Has this series been relatively clean or tame? A few of the Penguins were asked that question following practice today at Iceoplex:
Kris Letang (right), defensemen - "I don’t think it’s happening so much after the whistle or any scrums. It’s a different type of hockey, the East and the West. All those big guys hitting each other, you’re not going to find that in the East. It’s more fast paced."
Lee Stempniak, right winger – "I think it’s been pretty physical. I just think both teams have been pretty good job of playing to the whistle. Power plays are huge momentum swings for teams. It’s been physical but once the whistle blows, guys have been extra cautious. They’re not getting the extra penalty. Everybody is playing hard to the whistle and sort of stopping there. … I haven’t seen anything overtly dirty. It’s a little bit chippy just because it’s the playoffs but I think both teams are trying to be physical and make everyone their ice. It’s just been whistle to whistle."
Joe Vitale, center - "I think so. Guys are playing within the whistle. Guys are playing within the rules. I think it’s intense hockey. There’s been a lot of heavy hitting. There’s been some times in this series where it’s been aggressive. There’s been some extracurricular stuff after the whistle but I think both teams also know that’s not something we want to get into right now. They just want to focus on hockey and playing the right way. I think the focus is there right now."
Brandon Sutter, center - "No. I don’t think so. It’s definitely been a battle. There’s no easy points to the game. There’s been a lot of physicality. There hasn’t been fights. You usually don’t see a whole lot of fights this time years. Teams are worried about sitting in the box. It’s been, for the most part, pretty disciplined, but the physicality is definitely there. … By no means has it been a soft series."
Paul Martin (right), defenseman – "It could be. We try to play between the whistles. I think it depends sometimes on who you’re playing. Like [Kings-Sharks], they’re huge rivals. It’s still an emotional, physical series with a lot of hits. But I don’t think for us, it’s something we want to get involved in after the whistle. It gets us away from our game. I think we’re at our best when we focus on playing in between [the whistles] and not worrying about that other series. I don’t think it hasn’t been a cheap series. It’s been physical and sometimes you get hit but there hasn’t been anything that warranted a suspension or anything like that."
Craig Adams, right winger – "I haven’t really watched much of the others series. I saw a stat the other day. I think our series has the second most hits of any series. Emotions always run high and there’s a little bit of bad blood. We haven’t had any suspensions or things so that’s a good thing. Hopefully, we’ll keep it that way."
Matt Niskanen, defenseman – "We don’t have as much of that. Game 1, they tried to start that after the whistle. Scrums and stuff like that. But we’ve done a good job of staying away from that kind of stuff. But it’s been a fairly physical series. I’ve certainly played in series where it’s a lot tighter checking. A lot more physical. It’s more of a test of your will. What this series has had is a lot of energy and desperation from the team that’s down. Every game, there seems to be a fast start, then a response and it ends up being tight at the end. The [referees] have called a lot. So I think both teams are trying to control that side of it."
Tanner Glass, left winger – "Well, I think there’s more being called in this series as far as penalties go. No one wants to be the guy in the penalty box when they score a big goal. I think that’s really tamed the series down. That doesn’t mean there not stuff going on out there but I think the referees have really tempered the nastiness a little bit."
Sidney Crosby, center – "Yeah. It seems likes it’s pretty intense out there. After the whistle, I think that’s something we’re trying to stay away from. I would say there hasn’t been the controversy with certain things. I don’t know if there’s been a reason for that."
Rob Scuderi, defenseman – "It’s no doubt they’ve been trying to physical. Every time they get the puck in there, they’re getting a piece of our skin every single time. Just because it’s physical doesn’t mean it has to go to the next level. I think with the back and forth play that’s happened so far this series, teams want to be physical. They want to be aggressive but no one wants to take the next penalty. With the way it’s going, at times, it a little tentative."
Jussi Jokinen, left winger – "It’s hard. It’s physical for sure. It’s playoff hockey but I don’t think it’s been overly dirty or nasty. I think it’s how hockey should be played. No dirty hits or no suspensions. Just good hard playoff hockey."
(Photos:Bruce Bennett/Getty Images, Jim McIsaac/Getty Images and Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)