It's hard to say who are bigger hypocrites -- hockey people or hockey fans. The hypocrisy just drips off of every last one. • When one of yours takes out one of theirs with a hit ranging from borderline dirty to flagrantly criminal, it's a good, clean, hard hockey play. But when one of theirs puts the same hit on one of yours, the perp is a rotten lowlife who should be fined, suspended and maybe even banned for life from the NHL.
It would be comical if it weren't so sad.
The Penguins' Matt Cooke knocked the Carolina Hurricanes' Erik Cole out of Game 1 of their Stanley Cup playoff series Monday night with a knee-on-knee hit that brought back bad memories of Washington Capitals star Alex Ovechkin dropping Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar with a similar hit in the previous playoff round. The Penguins and their fans screamed about the Ovechkin play. Of course, they screamed. Defenseman Brooks Orpik accused Ovechkin of intentionally trying to hurt people, not just because of the Gonchar hit, but because of other runs Ovechkin has taken at Penguins. Cooke went so far as to say if he delivered such a blow, he would be suspended because, well, he's not Ovechkin and he isn't one of the brighter lights in the NHL galaxy.
Funny how quickly Cooke tested the league, isn't it?
Ovechkin wasn't even fined for his dirty hit and Cooke hadn't been for his as of yesterday, although it's possible the NHL could take some action today. If the league does, it won't be at all well-received in Pittsburgh. Cooke said he didn't mean it, didn't he? He said he was trying to avoid the collision. He said it was more Cole's fault.
That makes everything OK, right?
Didn't Ovechkin say the same things?
The same people who screamed about Ovechkin see nothing wrong with what Cooke did, even though he has a reputation for being something of a cheap-shot guy and even though this particular hit left Cole questionable not just for Game 2 tomorrow night at Mellon Arena, but for the rest of the series. Only the Carolina team and its fans were upset. "I just didn't like it," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice said of Cooke's hit.
Not that Maurice has any right to complain.
Maybe Maurice spoke out publicly against one of his players, winger Scott Walker, sucker-punching Boston defenseman Aaron Ward in the previous playoff round, but, gee, I don't remember seeing that.
That would include your Penguins.
Really, the Penguins have no room to gripe, either. You saw forward Chris Kunitz's cross-check to the neck of Capitals goaltender Simeon Varlamov in the previous round? That was every bit as vicious as Ovechkin's hit on Gonchar, so brutal that Kunitz admitted he felt lucky that he wasn't suspended.
The NHL could stop all of the gratuitous stuff if it really wanted to do it. All it would have to do is stiffen its punishment. That would change the culture quickly.
But the league has no desire to do that.
The players don't appear to want tougher rules, their whining and griping about dirty hits notwithstanding. In their mind, playoff hockey means absolutely anything goes. That's why they consider it perfectly normal to shake hands with opponents after they just spent a series trying to gouge one another's eyes out.
Certainly, the majority of fans don't want harsher penalties. They love the extra rough stuff, even if it is outside of the rules ...
OK, they love it at least until one of their players gets hurt.
The fans also love the players who are the perpetrators -- as long as those players are on their team. As far as recent Penguins history goes, Jarkko Ruutu comes quickly to mind. Before him, there was Darius Kasparaitis.
And Ulf, of course.
In the early 1990s when the Penguins were winning Stanley Cups, defenseman Ulf Samuelsson was a cult hero here. He also was an openly filthy player. "The referees have their line," he once said of hockey rules. "I try to go right up to it, but, occasionally, I step over it."
One of those times was during the '91 playoffs when Samuelsson put a highly questionable leg-on-leg lick on Boston forward Cam Neely, prompting Neely to say he had no respect for Samuelsson.
A good, clean, hard hockey play, Penguins fans called it.
Jack Lambert on skates, they called Samuelsson with great respect and admiration.
But if Neely had hit Ron Francis, Jaromir Jagr or -- heaven forbid -- Mario Lemieux like that ...
It is worth saying one more time:
Ron Cook can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .