Is it possible that the NHL is actually benefiting from the recent media frenzy over on-ice violence in the first-round of the hockey playoffs?
You will recall that, as recently as last week, media in both Canada and, more importantly, the US were lining up to attack the League for the brutality of the play and the mildness of the NHL's response to the violence.
At a time when the major US media outlets are usually focusing on the start of the MLB season, the approaching NBA playoffs and the NFL draft, relegating the hockey playdowns to the bottom of the page, this year the controversy over violence in hockey has made the NHL playoffs something of the topic-du-jour for the fifth estate.
And, just when the media focus is almost entirely on it, the NHL manages to slide some fantastic, exciting hockey into the mix. I'm talking for the most part about the Pittsburgh-Philly series and the series between Washington and Boston that came to a close last ngiht with a game-seven overtime victory for the Capitals.
If I thought the NHL league brass were actually smart enough, I'd start to wonder if they planned this whole thing: grab the spotlight with the violence, then sell your product to the masses with the best hockey you've got.
I know, I know. Last week I was writing about how crappy the hockey was. But that was last week, when players seemed to prefer the punch to the pass, the scrape to the skate, the grab to the goal.
This week, it's all skating, passing and scoring, with teams like the Capitals leading the way. And the NHL is finding other terrific stories to tell, like that of Tyler Holtby, the 22-year-old goalie who has come out of nowhere to stonewall the defending champion Bruins and give Washington a legitimate shot at the Cup.
No, I'm not becoming a born-again hockey fan. But I'm impressed with how the NHL playoffs have changed so dramatically from boring thuggery to a celebration of speed and skill in the past week. And at just the right time.