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Expect more traditional playoff hockey in the second round of the NHL

With sands full of North Americans buzzing for the NHL playoffs for the first time in three years, the first round overflowed with energy that sometimes amounted to explosions and full penalty boxes.

By the time all of the series reached Game 6, and five had reached Game 7, signs were already beginning to appear that made it look like a more traditional postseason.

Penalties have been declining, comebacks and drama on the rise and with the eight teams making up some of the best in the league, the second round and beyond will most likely resemble old school playoff hockey fans and players who are used to this time of year.

“The deeper you go, the more intense it becomes,” Colorado defender Cale Makar said. “That’s why playoff hockey is so much fun.”

It wasn’t much fun in the beginning, when the team that scored first won 26 times out of 32. The first week also had 14 games decided by two or more goals, not counting the empty gates, and there was only one multi-goal. Come back.

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Then there were nine wins behind in the last 19 games of the first round, including Florida, the winner of the Presidents Trophy, which eliminated a three-goal deficit over Washington. Four games have been overtime in the last four days, more than the first eight combined.

As the games got tighter with bigger momentum changes and the series went down the wire, penalty calls followed suit. It was still the most sanctioned call-up in the first round in nearly a decade – just over 10 per game, the highest since 2014 and an average of more than two above the pace of the regular season.

“The standard is the standard: it’s not a regular season standard, it’s not a playoff standard,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the start of the playoffs. “We continue to reinforce officers: ‘We want you to call the NHL standard.’

Referees at times dominated the conversation during and after matches because there were more penalties and power plays each night than in the regular season.

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“I’ve never seen him like that,” said Tampa Bay winger Pat Maroon, the only player to win the Stanley Cup in three years. “It killed a lot of momentum 5 to 5. It was a weird playoff for me. I’ve never seen this amount of penalties in a playoff before. It looks like it’s preseason again with all the calls from both sides.”

Retired defender Carlo Colaiacovo said the lack of flow made some parties “invisible.”

“I’ve always been the guy who encouraged the referees to consider the obvious because I think that’s why they’re on the ice, but you also have to understand the intensity that is played when the playoffs come,” Colaiacovo said. . “What people should really be proud of (in) the game of hockey is that there is a pride, an intensity and a toughness that is played at this time of year, and that has just been taken away.”

Retired referee Tim Peel said the league office instructs officials to call the regular season standard. They are especially careful to defend him because 20 work in the first round, with eight sent home before the second round begins.

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“If you’re not calling the NHL standard, there’s a good chance you won’t make it to the second round,” Peel said.

But he and others think the penalties will continue to go down and become less of a factor in the games. The fact that eight of the top 11 teams in the standings are competing for the Cup could also play an important role, as players focus on staying more disciplined.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Panthers coach Andrew Brunette said. “You often see fewer penalties (because) teams are smarter. They understand what they call and maybe they don’t let go a little bit. Players and teams understand the standard that is set and work it to their full advantage.”

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Contributed by AP Sports writer Pat Graham in Denver.

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Follow AP hockey writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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More NHL AP: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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Expect more traditional playoff hockey in the second round of the NHL

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