By STEPHEN WHYNO, AP Hockey Writer
As arenas full of North America buzzed for the NHL playoffs for the first time in three years, the first round was brimming with energy that at times amounted to blowouts and full penalties.
By the time nearly every series reached Game 6 — and five made it to Game 7 — signs were already starting to appear that made it look like a more traditional postseason.
Penalties were down, comebacks and drama up and with all eight teams making up some of the best in the league, the second round and beyond will likely look more like old school playoff hockey fans and players. are accustomed to this period of year.
“The deeper you go, the more intense it gets,” Colorado defenseman Cale Makar said. “That’s why playoff hockey is so much fun.
It wasn’t much fun at first, when the team that scored first won 26 out of 32 times. The first week also had 14 games decided by two or more goals, not counting empty nets, and there there was only one multiple purpose. come back.
Then there were nine wins from behind in the last 19 games of the first round, including Florida, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy, erasing a three-goal deficit against Washington. Four games have gone to overtime in the past four days – more than the first eight combined.
As games got closer with bigger changes in momentum and playoffs went to the wire, penalties followed suit. It was still the most penalties called in the first round in nearly a decade – just over 10 per game, the most since 2014 and an average of more than two above regular season pace .
“The standard is the standard: it’s not a regular season standard, it’s not a playoff standard,” commissioner Gary Bettman said at the start of the playoffs. “We keep insisting to the officials, ‘We want you to call it NHL standard.’ And that standard is to build speed and skill and the officials do that.
Officiating sometimes dominated the conversation during and after games because there were more penalties and power plays each night than in the regular season.
“I’ve never seen it like this,” said Tampa Bay winger Pat Maroon, the only player to win the Stanley Cup in the past three years. “It killed a lot of momentum 5-on-5. It was a weird playoff for me. I’ve never seen so many penalties before in the playoffs. Looks like it’s pre-season again with all the calls from both sides.
Retired defender Carlo Colaiacovo said the lack of fluidity made some games “impossible to watch”.
“I’ve always been the guy who encouraged umpires to call the obvious because I think that’s why they’re on the ice, but you also have to understand the intensity that comes into play when it comes to playoffs” , Colaiacovo said. . “What people should really be proud of (in) the game of hockey is that there’s a pride and an intensity and a tenacity that plays out at this time of year, and that’s just been removed.”
Retired umpire Tim Peel said the league office told officials to call the regular-season standard. They are particularly careful to maintain this because 20 are working the first round, with eight sent home before the start of the second.
“If you don’t call the NHL standard, chances are you won’t make it to the second round,” Peel said.
But he and others believe penalties will continue to decrease and become less significant in games. The fact that eight of the top 11 teams in the table remain in Cup contention could also play a major role, with players focusing on staying more disciplined.
“I don’t know what to expect,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said. “A lot of times you see fewer penalties (because) teams are getting smarter. They understand what they call and what they may not let go for a bit. Players and teams understand the standard that is set and they work it to their best advantage.
AP Sports Writer Pat Graham in Denver contributed.
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