The NHL playoffs are now a little over a week old, and while this isn't quite long enough to determine who is heading to the conference finals, we have made some progress in our secondary mission of determining who is good ... and who is bad.
Not at hockey, mind you -- just in general.
The Dallas Stars?
After all, who would shamelessly target the the jaw of one of their opponents, as Dallas did to poor Ryan Getzlaf's puck-marked face in Game 3? Sure, it threw him off his game, and sure, he even lost his composure badly enough to take himself off the ice for the final two minutes of the second period, when the Ducks could have used his offence to cut a two-goal deficit in half -- and thus, wrest the momentum away from the Stars -- heading into the intermission.
But still, this was a Classless™ thing to do, and Getzlaf said so himself. From Defending Big D:
"Well, it's one of those things, you've got to stay as disciplined as you can but you've got to protect yourself too," said Getzlaf. "That's part of the game. Obviously, I never expected them to target my face that much, but that's the way it goes I guess."
"Well it was class," Getzlaf continued.. "You can play hard and do all the things you want, but me personally, if a guy's got a bad jaw, I'm not going to hit him in the jaw but everybody's different."
Getzlaf may be speaking from the heart. He may not be the type to go after a guy's jaw. HIs frequent running mate Corey Perry, on the other hand? Slap a partial face shield on an opponent and Perry will flutter around it like a moth with a porchlight.
Why? That's part of his game. It may very well be classless. Doing this will earn you zero class bucks. But all you can buy with class bucks is a Lady Byng, hockey's dumbest trophy (and apparently you can still be eligible for that if you demand a trade because your GM left you off the Olympic team, so whatever).
Lots of stuff in hockey is classless. It's not called the National Classy League, and that's on purpose. The players use visors, helmets and sticks, not monocles, top hats, and canes. You don't get points for good behavior. No one is watching to see if you dab the spilled blood with your handkerchief rather than smear it all over the back of your sleeve.
Heck, in hockey, you sometimes get points for bad behavior. Getzlaf's loss of composure in Game 3, at a critical junction, may not have cost the Ducks the game, but I think we can all agree that it's a whole lot easier to take a two-goal lead into the intermission when your opponent is prevented from deploying the best offensive player in the NHL this season not named Sidney Crosby.
Similarly, it's a lot easier to score when your opponent isn't allowed to send five guys onto the ice and you are. That in mind, occasionally attempting to draw a penalty, perhaps with a bit of embellishment, makes a whole lot of sense.
This is what the Rangers appeared to be doing in Game 2, although they denied it, because lying about stuff you did on the ice (or pretending you don't remember, what with the heat of the moment practically melting the part of your brain where memories are stored) is one of hockey's oldest traditions. From the NY Post:
Trying to rid themselves of the reputation as divers, they rebuked both calls after Monday’s optional practice as they prepared for Game 3 in Philadelphia on Tuesday.
“I’m not sure if [the referees] changed their mind after [the Flyers] started yelling,” said Derek Dorsett, who was called for the second dive 11:41 into the second period when he was cross-checked from behind by Wayne Simmonds, who was also penalized. “I watched the one replay, and I don’t think there was any embellishment. Whether I went down easy or not, it wasn’t a dive.”
Dorsett dove, and the last line of that quote is the giveaway that he's talking out of his ass. ("Whether I chewed and swallowed a stolen cookie or not, I did not steal from the cookie jar.") But who really cares if he did dive? In this case, he got caught, but in other instances, he might not, and then his team might score a goal on a penalty he drew, and then do you know what he's done? He's contributed.
By this logic, one assumes Derek Dorsett, and any other player who would like his team to win the match, might occasionally dive. Or they could be classy, and not help their team win.
A classier version of Carey Price probably doesn't exploit rule 69.3, throwing himself into Alex Killorn, then flopping around his crease like the light contact left him with a touch of the dizzies, successfully negating the Lighting's go-ahead goal thanks to Francis Charron correctly enforcing the letter of the law on a dumbly-written rule.
Similarly, Duncan Keith probably doesn't chirp a concussed David Backes with "wakey wakey". Not that it did Chicago any good in that game, which they lost, but again, in the battle of class versus gamesmanship, gamesmanship is going to win out.
That's not to say any of these things are good, moral things to do. They're obviously not. Garbage like Milan Lucic's cup check on Danny DeKeyser needs to be punished, and it was. But that's not going to stop it. If teams are thinking more about avenging testicles than scoring, they don't win, which is why DeKeyser's testicles likely won't be the last to come under fire this postseason.
Hockey isn't played on moral grounds. It's played on ice, where everyone is as slippery as the surface. And for every Ryan Getzlaf, who would never target a guy's injury, perish the thought, there's a Corey Perry, or Ryan Garbutt or Duncan Keith, who long ago gave up going to hockey heaven. They don't really care about rightness. They don't care about much, outside of winning. That's why they're here. That's why they win so often.
You, the fan, may care about class, likely because it makes you feel good to cheer for the team that appears to be exhibiting a higher degree of righteousness. Similarly, the players may care once the game is over and they're back in their right minds. At that point, they may condemn their opponents for cheap or dirty play. It feels good to tell yourself you're the good guy.
But on the ice, pretty much everybody is playing the villain.
If you're going to gasp every time someone crosses the line, expect to get the bends. All throughout the playoffs, we're going to see instance after instance of players being [expletives] to one another, largely because in the NHL playoffs, nice guys finish first; and in a war of attrition like hockey's postseason, you want to be the guy that finishes last.