- Scott Burnside, NHL
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PHILADELPHIA -- An already dire situation for the Pittsburgh Penguins -- down 3-0 in their first round playoff series with the Philadelphia Flyers -- has been made even more ominous with the suspension of three regulars, including 40-goal man James Neal.
The Penguins, outscored 20-12 in the first three games of this series, will be without Neal, who was suspended for one game by league disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan after he knocked down an unsuspecting Sean Couturier with a hard check even though the puck was nowhere nearby in the third period of Sunday’s 8-4 Philadelphia win. Later in that period, Neal also went after Claude Giroux, dazing him with a hit.
The Penguins will also be without Craig Adams, who was given an automatic one-game suspension for an instigator penalty earned in a late-game fight with Scott Hartnell. Arron Asham was given a four-game ban for his crosscheck to the face and throat of Brayden Schenn, whom he then punched after the Flyers forward fell to the ice.
The suspensions of Neal and Asham inexplicably took more than 48 hours after Game 3 to become public. Ironically, the decisions were then lost in the furor over an even more disturbing case in a spring of ugliness for the National Hockey League.
In Chicago, serial predator Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes left his feet to hit Chicago forward Marian Hossa after Hossa had made a pass in the neutral zone. Hossa lay motionless on the ice and was carried off on a stretcher.
Although it’s difficult to determine just what criteria Shanahan is using in handing down supplemental discipline in a chaotic opening week of the playoffs, the outcry around the league over player behavior and the league’s ineffectiveness at changing behavior is at a fever pitch.
The mayhem has become the story of the playoffs, blotting out terrific stories like the Florida Panthers’ come-from-behind win in Game 3 and the youthful Flyers’ domination of the Pens.
At least in Neal’s case, this is a punishment that has some consequence.
One can only assume Neal will feel a pinch of remorse if he’s wearing a suit in the press box Wednesday night and his team is swept from the playoffs. Surely contributing to that embarrassing fact through his own selfish behavior by running amok, targeting defenseless Flyers players, might prompt a change in behavior.
Sadly, given the nonstop carnage of this postseason, one despairs that anyone will learn a lesson of any kind.
2dScott Burnside and Craig Custance