We have seen the goofiest controversy of the 2010 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it is "SandGate."
During Saturday's 3-0 Game 4 Eastern Conference final victory by the Philadelphia Flyers over the Montreal Canadiens, NBC's Pierre McGuire made a curious observation according to the Philadelphia Daily News: That "sand or some other foreign substance" was covering the hallway floor near the Flyers' dressing room.
Sand and razor-sharp skate blades don't mix, and the Flyers had several players leave the ice for what appeared to be skate issues during the game. By the third period, there were towels down on the floor covering the substance so the team could safely traverse it.
Scott Hartnell(notes), Darroll Powe(notes) and Claude Giroux(notes) also missed shifts during the game to have their skates repaired. "I think it was five times that I had to get my skates sharpened tonight, which is obviously a bit much," Richards said. "I'm not sure [what happened]. I didn't check the carpet for [sand]."
Richards said Flyers assistant equipment manager Harry Bricker, the man in charge of skate sharpening, said the substance on the floor was "a little too big for being sand pellets."
Was it purposeful sabotage by Montreal?
A few Flyers wouldn't rule it out in anonymous comments to the DelCo Times after the game. The local FOX affiliate in Philadelphia also openly questioned the origins and intent of the foreign substance.
With all this attention, the Canadiens naturally had to answer questions about SandGate despite being one loss away from their Cinderella run ending Monday night in Philly. Coach Jacques Martin denied any sand-bagging of the Flyers hallway; he told The Gazette that both teams had skate problems and placed the blame on "new composite sticks" causing damage to skates.
Defenseman Jaroslav Spacek(notes), meanwhile, was a bit more merciless in his response to the controversy:
"I thought they had diarrhea, going back and forth from the locker room," Montreal defenseman Jaroslav Spacek said on Sunday. "The guys were talking on the plane. What happened? ... If (the Flyers) have trouble, maybe they can wear those skate protectors like figure skaters," Spacek said.
Provoking the Flyers or their fans? Never a good idea. As Barry Petchesky of Deadspin theorized, if this thing got out of hand, we could have seen the orange and black faithful tossing bags of sand on the ice after hat-tricks in Game 5.
What a strange bit of intentional or unintentional gamesmanship, entering the pantheon of such incidents as the New York Giants allegedly opening large metal doors to affect the wind on opponents' kicks in the old Meadowlands stadium. Seriously: Is there really any difference between teams figuratively skating sand against the Canadiens' defense and literally doing so?
We're not saying the Habs may have been trying to use a sandy hallway to gain an advantage over the Flyers, but they just hired Flint Marko as their new arena maintenance manager.
Whatever it was that affected the Flyers, it didn't affect them all that much: They're still one win away from returning to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time since 1997 in an effort to win their first Cup since 1975. The Canadiens, meanwhile, are seeing their hopes slip away like sands through the hourgl ... uh, like something else fleeting.