Time to eliminate embellishing from NHL playoffs

Time to eliminate embellishing from NHL playoffs
May 27, 2014, 3:15 pm
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Enough is enough when it comes to embellishment, diving, flopping and all of the other dishonorable things creeping into the NHL game that make it much more like soccer than old-time hockey.

There were plenty of voices that had enough after watching Game 4 between the Montreal Canadiens and New York Rangers with Tomas Plekanec snapping his head back on a Brian Boyle high stick that grazed him in the shoulder pad area. To make matters worse earlier in the game, P.K. Subban had jumped up in the air and lifted his skates off the ice to sell an otherwise legitimate high-sticking call against Rick Nash.

It moved Eddie Olczyk to criticize both incidents during the live NBCSN broadcast, and studio analyst Mike Milbury did the same after watching things play out on the Madison Square Garden ice.

Milbury said Subban’s embellishment was “Oscar-worthy, not Emmy worthy”, and that Plekanec deserved a four-minute double minor for violently snapping his head back on a stick that tapped his shoulder pads.

Habs fans took umbrage with the verbal attack during the US broadcast and clearly there is a stigma that Montreal players embellish more than just about anybody else in the NHL. But it’s also obvious during the playoffs that players from every team try to sell penalty calls to the referees. Most will do anything to win with so much on the line, and that even goes for Bruins players like Zdeno Chara and Brad Marchand as well.

Getting back to Game 4, the hockey gods favored the Rangers over the Montreal dive team with a Martin St. Louis overtime goal, and that lessened the outrage over the play-acting transpiring out on the ice.

Rangers coach Alain Vigneault wouldn’t take the bait when asked about the refereeing after the game, and that’s just smart coaching after you’ve won the battle.

“It was us,” the coach said to reporters following Game 4. “They were penalties . . . can’t do that.”

Both calls were fairly legitimate high-sticking penalties by the letter of the law, and – in fairness – a Habs player, I think it was David Desharnais, took a two-hander to the back of the helmet in overtime and didn’t try to sell a call that was clearly missed by the referees.

It was the only thing missed by Dan O’Rourke and Dave Jackson in the Montreal games they’ve officiated during the playoffs, however: The Habs have a 20-10 advantage in power plays awarded in the three games that O’Rourke/Jackson worked with Montreal in these playoffs. Two of those games were Games 2 and 7 in the Bruins/Canadiens series, and included an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty levied against Claude Julien in Game 2 at TD Garden.

It’s all interesting information at the end of the day, but what can be done about the undignified flopping that’s becoming a plague on the league?

Slap any embellishers, divers and floppers with a double minor unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for embellishment while still calling the initial minor penalty. In both those cases Nash and Boyle would have served two-minute minor penalties for high-sticking, but Subban and Plekanec would each have been off for four minutes, and given power plays to the Rangers for embarrassing the on-ice officials, and watering down the great NHL playoff product.

Embellishment is a black mark on the sport. Handing out damaging penalties for the embellishers, divers and floppers is the only way to stamp it out with the horse already largely out of the barn. Players are doing it and getting away with it, and will continue to do it when given the chance.

It’s time for the NHL to pay a little less lip service to eradicating diving from the game, and move into action mode that’s ultimately the only time players will heed the important message.