Ranking the Dirtiest Plays in the 1st Round of the 2014 NHL Playoffs
NHL hockey is renowned for its hard-hitting play. That physical intensity escalates during the Stanley Cup playoffs. Emotions and energy run high among the players as they push themselves to the limit in pursuit of hockey's ultimate prize.
Such intensity also comes with an ugly price. As much as the playoffs bring out the best in NHL players, it can sometimes bring out the worst. With the stakes high and each game becoming more meaningful, some players allow their emotions to get the better of them. The result is reckless play and deliberate attempts to injure opponents.
This year's divisional semifinals saw its share of dirty plays. Knee-on-knee hits, boarding and spearing were among the notable cheap shots, some of which resulted in injuries, fines and suspensions.
The following is a ranking of the dirtiest plays thus far in the NHL 2014 divisional semifinals.
10. Mike Brown Checking Players into Jonathan Quick
LA Kings' goaltender Jonathan Quick is a proven playoff performer, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP and backstopping the Kings to a Stanley Cup title in 2012. If the Sharks could rattle Quick and knock him off his game, it would work to their advantage.
Sharks' fourth-line forward Mike Brown employed a unique method by recklessly sending a Kings player crashing into Quick. Barely five minutes into Game 1, Brown knocked Kings' defenseman Slava Voynov into Quick, resulting in a scrum as an angry Quick tried to get back at Brown.
Pro Hockey Talk's Cam Tucker noted Brown followed up early in Game 2 by sending Kings' forward Tyler Toffoli crashing into Quick. Brown was penalized for interference in the first instance but not for the second.
Brown's antics may have contributed to the Sharks' lopsided victories (6-3 and 7-2) in both games. He subsequently explained his actions to CSNBayArea.com's Kevin Kurz: "I obviously want to get in and kind of rattle him, but it was nothing intentional. Just playing the hockey game."
Intentional or not, Quick was fortunate to escape injury from those collisions. There were no similar incidents as the series progressed, and his performance improved as the Kings rallied back to force Game 7.
9. Maxim Lapierre Boarding Sheldon Brookbank
The Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues divisional semifinal was among the most physical of the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Among the noteworthy incidents was a boarding call on Blues forward Max Lapierre on Blackhawks defenseman Sheldon Brookbank in the second period of Game 3.
Pro Hockey Talk's Cam Tucker reported Lapierre received only a minor penalty for driving Brookbank into the glass from behind. Brookbank was fortunate to escape uninjured and wasn't pleased with Lapierre, challenging the Blues' forward to a fight following the penalty call.
As Tucker noted, this wasn't the first time Lapierre hit an opponent from behind into the boards. He pulled a similar stunt last October on San Jose Sharks defenseman Dan Boyle, who left the game on a stretcher and missed seven games to an upper-body injury. Lapierre received a five-game suspension for that incident.
Judging by his hit on Brookbank, he didn't learn much from that punishment.
8. Corey Perry Spears Jamie Benn
The Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars divisional series was an intense, hard-fought grind. Tempers often flared for both sides, at times resulting in fights and reckless stick work.
One notable incident occurred during the first period of Game 2, when Ducks winger Corey Perry took exception to a check from Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn, spearing him in the groin. Though the referee called it slashing, replays clearly showed it was a spear. Benn didn't appear injured but was probably thankful for his protective cup.
It's interesting to note Perry and Benn were linemates, along with Ducks center Ryan Getzlaf, on the Canada men's hockey team, which won gold at the Sochi Olympics in February. The Calgary Sun's Wes Gilbertson reported the Ducks' sniper had nothing but praise for Benn. "He's a helluva player," said Perry, who called Benn "the all-around player that you want on your team."
Perry may respect Benn, but he has a weird way of showing it.
7. Mike Richards Spears Logan Couture
Los Angeles Kings center Mike Richards has had a frustrating series against the San Jose Sharks. Through six games, he managed only one point with a plus/minus rating of minus-three. His struggles were a contributing factor in the Kings falling behind three games to none and being pushed to the brink of elimination.
That frustration boiled over for Richards late in Game 2. With just more than five minutes remaining in the third period and the Sharks cruising to a 7-2 win, Richards speared San Jose forward Logan Couture in the midsection. He received a double minor for his efforts.
"He speared me. Right in front of the ref," Couture told the Los Angeles Times' Lisa Dillman following the game. "I guess we'll see what happens." If he was hoping for supplemental discipline for Richards, he was disappointed. The league didn't schedule a disciplinary hearing, and Richards wasn't fined for his actions.
6. Bryan Bickell Kneeing Vladimir Sobotka
Game 2 of the Chicago Blackhawks vs. St. Louis Blues series was among the roughest of the opening round of the NHL playoffs. It is best-remembered for Blackhawks' defenseman Brent Seabrook boarding Blues captain David Backes late in the third period.
That incident overshadowed Blackhawks' left wing Bryan Bickell's knee-on-knee hit with Blues' forward Vladimir Sobotka earlier in the period. Sobotka was on the ice for a few moments, sparking concern he re-injured his left knee, which sidelined him for 12 games earlier in the season and forced him to miss the Sochi Olympics.
Bickell received a minor penalty for kneeing. Fortunately for both players, Sobotka returned to action and played through the remainder of the series. Had he been injured, Bickell could have faced supplemental discipline.
5. Jarret Stoll Elbowing Marc-Edouard Vlasic's Head
The Los Angeles Kings vs. San Jose Sharks series has had its share of rough, sometimes reckless play. One of these incidents left the Sharks without their best defenseman going into Game 6.
With about six minutes remaining in the first period of Game 5, Kings center Jarret Stoll checked Sharks defenseman Marc Edouard Vlasic along the boards near the Sharks net. The initial hit was fine, but Stoll followed up on an off-balance Vlasic with an elbow to the back of the defenseman's head.
Stoll received a two-minute penalty for roughing, while Vlasic left the game and didn't return. The San Jose Mercury News' Curtis Pashelka reported Vlasic suffered an upper-body injury, forcing him to miss Game 6. Losing him could prove a significant blow to San Jose's defense corps over the remainder of this series.
4. Ryan Garbutt Spears Corey Perry
The Anaheim Ducks vs. Dallas Stars series certainly had its share of rough play. It included a scrum at the end of Game 4 that nearly spilled out of control, and a fight-filled third period in Game 5.
The low point of Game 5, however, came in the first period, when Dallas Stars forward Ryan Garbutt speared Anaheim Ducks winger Corey Perry in the groin as the two teams were in the midst of a line change. He was immediately assessed a five-minute major and a game misconduct. Perry avoided serious injury and finished the game.
Earlier in the series, Perry speared Stars captain Jamie Benn in the groin. Benn was uninjured, while Perry received a two-minute slashing minor. Garbutt's actions could be seen as getting some revenge for his teammate.
"I was just coming back to the bench and got careless with my stick," he told Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News. "It was definitely something I didn't want to do." The league didn't see it as accidental, fining the Stars winger $1,474.
3. Milan Lucic Spears Danny DeKeyser
Boston Bruins left wing Milan Lucic was a significant factor in his club's elimination of the Detroit Red Wings in their divisional semifinal. The 6'3", 235-pound power forward led the Bruins in goals (three), shots (14) and hits (19).
But he didn't get off to a good start in the series. With his club locked in a scoreless draw late in the second period of Game 1, a frustrated Lucic skated up behind Red Wings defenseman Danny DeKeyser and speared him in the groin. The incident occurred behind the play and was missed by the officials. The league subsequently fined him $5,000.
It's not the first time Lucic has done this. In March he speared Montreal Canadiens defenseman Alexei Emelin. Following the DeKeyser incident, the Boston Herald's Steve Conroy reported Lucic explained his actions. "It was kind of a heat of the moment thing when you're not thinking and you do something like that. I've been in the league seven years and I think I've done that three times. I don't know why I did it, but I think it was one of those heat of the moment things that unfortunately I did."
Lucic vows he won't go down that road again. If he knows what's good for him, he'll keep his word. The league won't let him off with a fine next time.
2. Brent Seabrook Boarding David Backes
Late in the third period of Game 2 between the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook leveled Blues captain David Backes with a reckless hit, with Seabrook's shoulder striking Backes' head. The Blues captain was forced from the game with an upper-body injury and also missed the following two games.
Seabrook received a five-minute major for boarding and a game misconduct. He subsequently received a three-game suspension for his actions. He claimed he felt bad seeing Backes on the ice following the incident. "I've been there myself," Seabrook told NHL.com's Dan Rosen. "I'm not trying to target his head. I'm not trying to do anything like that. It doesn't feel good to see a player like that lying there like that and whatnot, and knowing that I hit him. It wasn't my intent."
Intentional or not, the hit changed the course of the series. While the Blues went on to win Game 2 in overtime to take a 2-0 series lead, they seemed deflated by their captain's absence. Though Backes returned for the final two games of the series, it wasn't enough to prevent the Blackhawks from eliminating the Blues in six games.
1. Matt Cooke Kneeing Tyson Barrie
Of all the dirty plays so far in the 2014 Stanley Cup playoffs, the worst was Minnesota Wild forward Matt Cooke's kneeing of Colorado Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie during Game 3 of their divisional semifinal series.
Cooke, who has a lengthy suspension history (SI.com's John Rolfe detailed the winger's rap sheet), delivered an open-ice knee-on-knee hit on Barrie during the second period. Replays showed Cooke deliberately targeted the left knee of the Avalanche blueliner, who will miss four to six weeks with an MCL injury. The league subsequently handed Cooke a seven-game suspension, marking the sixth time in his career he's been banished for his reckless play.
After the suspension was announced, Cooke issued a public statement claiming to be sorry for injuring Barrie. He said it wasn't his intent to hurt the Avalanche blueliner as he was merely trying to finish his check. That's cold comfort for the Avalanche, who are without one of their best players at a crucial time in the season. The incident did little to add credibility to Cooke's insistence that he's changed his ways.