Q: Have you heard any chatter about the league possibly accelerating the playoff schedule in coming seasons? I realize that everything in pro sports is revenue-driven, that venues may be booked for other events and that travel time must also be factored in. However, consider that in the Carolina series, it will be nearly two weeks from the Pens' victory in Game 7 against Washington until Game 4 against the Hurricanes. I know that the days of a best-of-five playoff series are gone, but there has to be a better way to keep fans (especially casual ones) from getting bored or aggravated while waiting for the next game.
MOLINARI: Travel time really isn't a factor in scheduling -- the league has no problem compelling teams to play a game on one coast and another on the far side of the country two days later -- but arena availability and the demands of TV rights-holders are.
Teams generally like to get into an every-other-day rhythm, and the Penguins and Philadelphia actually were able to do that during the opening round, but it's more the exception than the rule these days.
Consider that in the Western final, Detroit and Chicago have two days off between Games 1 and 2, and will have a similar break between Game 4 and 5, as well as 5 and 6. Some players, especially those nursing nagging injuries or who log unusually high ice time, might appreciate the extra time, but having so much time between games does disrupt the flow of a series and, quite possibly, risk losing the attention of casual fans.
There definitely is some sentiment in hockey circles to try to end the playoffs a little earlier -- hard to believe many people would be interested in skipping a Fourth of July picnic just to take in Game 4 of the Cup final between Anaheim and Buffalo a few years down the road, isn't it? -- but the people backing that idea either don't have enough support or a satisfactory plan to make it a reality. Perhaps things will change if heat and humidity turn the Cup final into a swim meet some year.
Q: My hope, and I'm sure it's a naive one, is that some of the nonsense between Penguins and Capitals fans over their respective star players is toned down going forward. I think if people can't walk away from that series with good things to say about both Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby (despite some obvious characteristics that are justifiably bemoaned), they just aren't true hockey fans.
Pat, Shakopee, Minn.
MOLINARI: Yes, it would be wonderful if people would act the way you suggest. And yes, you are na??ve if you believe there's any chance of that happening. (Unless, if course, it's part of some divine trifecta that includes peace in the Middle East and an end to hunger throughout the world.) The unfortunate reality is that some members of every team's fan base seem to believe the best way to demonstrate loyalty to their club is to be as uncivil, if not downright juvenile, as possible when discussing players on rival teams. So some people who don't like the Penguins won't criticize some aspect of Sidney Crosby's on-ice performance, but instead will call him "Cindy." And Penguins fans who don't care for the Capitals don't focus on a flaw in Ovechkin's game -- say, his less-than-total commitment to defense -- and instead talk about how he looks like a caveman.
The loss, ultimately, is theirs. There's nothing wrong with having fierce ties to a particular team -- in fact, a serious commitment by fans adds a valuable dimension to any game -- but people who can't appreciate the brilliance of a particular player simply because of the sweater he wears are denying themselves a chance to enjoy some of the greatness that makes this game so special.
That doesn't mean Penguins and Capitals partisans should swap their Ovechkin and Crosby sweaters before the first game between the teams next season, join hands and offer up a rousing chorus of "Kumbaya," but there's no reason to think that respecting the talents of players on the other team would detract from the rivalry. There's even less reason to believe that will happen.