Playoff hockey is supposed to be a tightly contested gladiator show with teeth-grinding defense and nail-biting finishes.
Through three games, the first-round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers has included a collection of pretty highlight-reel goals and breezy blowouts.
With the Penguins holding a 2-1 lead and Game 4 set for Wednesday night in Philadelphia, here are four ways the series has been busting playoff hockey myths so far.
MYTH: NHL referees swallow their whistles once the playoffs start.
BUSTED: There have been 28 power plays in the first three games of the series.
In the regular season, NHL teams get, on average, 3.14 power plays per game. In the playoffs, heading into Monday night’s games, they are getting 3.53.
That will likely change as the Stanley Cup Final gets closer, but for now, the idea that fewer penalties are called in the playoffs is demonstrably false.
In the Penguins-Flyers series, it’s even more pronounced. Both teams averaged 3.2 power plays per game in the regular season. In three games, the Penguins had 15 power plays and the Flyers had 13.
“I think just the amount of penalties that have been called in the series so far is an indication of how the refs are calling the game,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “They’re calling it as they see it. I think discipline is of the utmost importance.”
MYTH: NHL defenses tighten up in the playoffs.
BUSTED: The winning team scored at least five goals in the first three games of the series.
In folklore, playoff games are low-scoring battles decided during white-knuckle third periods.
The Penguins and Flyers cruised to their respective wins in the series, and they’re not the only ones. The phenomenon has infected the entire Eastern Conference. In taking 2-0 leads in their series, Boston scored 12 goals, Tampa Bay scored 10 and Columbus scored nine.
Sullivan, for what it’s worth, doesn’t think this myth will stay busted for long.
“I do think, because of the importance of the games and the high-stakes environment, teams tend to be more committed to the little things that make teams more difficult to play against like shot blocking and physical play and finishing checks and things of that nature, so it tends to be a harder game,” he said.
MYTH: The Penguins are a finesse team.
BUSTED: The Penguins have blocked 45 shots in the first three games of the series.
The Penguins are still built around the concept of the best defense is a good offense, but when it comes down to it, their defensemen — even without Ian Cole — will eat vulcanized rubber when the situation requires it.
The Penguins blocked 24 shots in Game 1 and 17 more in Game 2.
“We don’t want to just line up and block shots,” Sullivan said. “Ideally, we’re anticipating and we’re jumping on pucks, and we’re not allowing opportunities for our opponents to deliver pucks to our net or get those one-timers where we’re forced to have to block shots, but there are times in a game where the shot block is necessary.”
MYTH: Home ice is an advantage.
BUSTED: Home teams are 1-2 in the first three games of the series.
In theory, home teams should have an edge in the series because their coaches can choose how to handle Sidney Crosby’s matchup.
In reality, both coaches have usually wanted the same thing: Crosby’s line against Sean Couturier’s line.
“I think it’s a small part of this series,” Flyers coach Dave Hakstol said. “The matchups in this series may develop from game to game, but I still think the most important thing is everyone in the lineup being ready to do a job, no matter who they’re lined up against.”