The performance of the Boston Bruins and Vancouver Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup playoffs earned them considerable plaudits, but also plenty of criticism for questionable tactics, cheap shots and unsportsmanlike conduct, much of which went uncalled by the officials.
Critics considered the Canucks the "most hated", "most reviled" or "the dirtiest team". Forward Alex Burrows and Maxim Lapierre were accused of biting, diving, hair-pulling and other pesky antics, while their teammates, including the superstar Sedin Twins, faced accusations of embellishing borderline infractions in hopes of drawing penalties.
As for the 2011 Stanley Cup champions Bruins, they may not have received quite as much attention as the Canucks did for questionable tactics over the course of the playoffs, but they certainly weren't angels on route to the Final.
And in the Final, Milan Lucic, Brad Marchand and Mark Recchi attempted to avenge teammate Patrice Bergeron (who was allegedly bitten by Burrows in Game One and taunted about it by Lapierre in Game Two) with taunts, face-washes and muggings of Burrows and Lapierre.
Marchand also clothslined Canucks defenseman Christian Ehrhoff and low-bridged Daniel Sedin in Game Four, and in Game Six attempted to goad Sedin into fighting by punching him multiple times in the face, in plain view of the referee.
Most Bruins fans will say their players were simply taking matters into their own hands as the Canucks were getting away with questionable tactics. Two wrongs however don't make a right.
Some pundits, bloggers and fans decried the unsportsmanlike conduct of both teams in the Final, but these two teams were merely engaging in the long NHL tradition of doing whatever it took, fair or foul, to win the Cup.
NHL fans, bloggers and pundits under 30 are too young to remember the Boston Bruins of the early 1970s, but their antics back then overshadowed anything the Canucks did this spring.
In the early 70s, when the Bruins dominated the league, they were known by their longer alias: “The Big, Bad Bruins”, and they weren't just proud of that moniker, they were smug about it, too.
The Bruins of that era came by the moniker “big, bad” honestly. They were a team filled with big (for that time), tough, physical players. Many of them were talented, but they also never shied away from the rough stuff, or for that matter, trash-talking and questionable antics.
Yet those Bruins teams were choirboys compared to the Philadelphia Flyers of the mid-seventies.
Known as the Broad Street Bullies, those Flyers teams not only went looking for trouble, they were proud of their nasty reputation, thriving in the role of the NHL's bad boys. They didn't care who they fought, intimidating talent opponents with their bullying.
Even their captain, the great Bobby Clarke, has a reputation as one of the dirtiest players in the game, who would taken anything to win.
The Montreal Canadiens of the late-seventies are considered one of the greatest hockey dynasties of all time, winning four straight Stanley Cups, winning nearly every individual award as they dominated the NHL, and are often remembered today as having restored the game's integrity when they beat the Flyers for the 1976 Stanley Cup.
What you don't hear is how much those dominant Habs were loathed at the time. Their success sparked considerably jealousy by fans of other teams, some of whom would come playoff time say they were cheering for “ABC” - anyone but Canadiens.
Another reason of course was that the Habs weren't squeaky clean, with notable “shift disturbers” like Mario Tremblay and Doug Risebrough in their lineup. They were effective players, but their pesky antics would drive opponents crazy.
The New York Islanders of the early 1980s were a more workmanlike dynasty, winning as much with role players as they did with stars like Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy.
Smith was one of the best clutch goalies in playoff history, but was also known for his liberal use of his goal-stick to discourage opponents from venturing too close to his crease, as well as antagonizing them into taking penalties. One analyst, spotting Smith grinning after goading an opponent into an roughing penalty, said he looked like a cat who ate a canary.
The Edmonton Oilers of the mid-to late-1980s are considered the NHL's “last dynasty”, winning five Stanley Cups in eight years.
While their wide-open offensive style, led by Wayne Gretzky, made them the most exciting team in league history, they also had some players on their teams, like Ken Linesman and Esa Tikkanen, who weren't above cheap shots and trash talking.
Even Mark Messier, considered one of the great leaders in NHL history, had a history of deliberately injuring other players with cheap shots and blindside hits.
Indeed, the Oilers at the height of their powers garnered a reputation as an arrogant young team, openly mocking lesser-talented opponents during game play.
Over the past twenty years, seemingly every Stanley Cup winner has been singled out for carrying players on their rosters who engaged in questionable tactics and unsportsmanlike conduct.
The Pittsburgh Penguins won two Stanley Cups in the early 1990s with Ulf Samuelsson on their roster, considered one of the dirtiest players in league history.
Claude Lemieux had a long, successful NHL career, yet he forever earned the wrath of Detroit Red Wings fans for his blindside, face-rearranging hit on Kris Draper in the 1996 Western Conference Final.
Scott Stevens was considered one of the best defensemen in NHL history, and the leader of the New Jersey Devils during their Stanley Cup years, yet hockey fans to this day still debate whether or not his hits on Eric Lindros, Slava Kozlov and Paul Kariya in the Stanley Cup playoffs were clean.
Dallas Stars captain Derian Hatcher hoisted the Stanley Cup in 1999, and is remembered as one of the toughest defensemen of his era, yet he wasn't above using his stick or his elbows to inflict punishment on unsuspecting opponents.
The actions of Chris Pronger, Corey Perry and Brad May during the Anaheim Ducks run to the 2007 Stanley Cup drew considerable criticism, making them – you guessed it - “the most hated team in the playoffs” that year.
Last year's Cup champion, the Chicago Blackhawks, had their share of players (including Dave Bolland, Ben Eager, and Adam Burish) who employed means which weren't much different from what some of the Canucks have done this year.
Search back far enough in the NHL media archives, and you'll probably find reports criticizing the great championship teams of the old “Original Six” era of dirty or unsportsmanlike play.
Most Stanley Cup winners earned their championships not just because they had the best goaltender, or defense, or offense, or excel on special teams, but also because they have tougher players and better pests.
Players like Burrows and Lapierre of Vancouver, and Marchand of Boston, certainly engaged in tactics which infuriated their opponents and hurt the quality of the game, but they didn't blaze any trails.
Arrogance, trash-talking, cheap shots, blind side hits, bullying and other dirty tactics have always been a part of the NHL game,especially in the playoffs. and yet the league has shown little desire to eliminate it.
Those actions usually get written off as “part of playoff hockey” by those who laud the toughness of NHL players.
This year, the Canucks were the bad guys, seen as “undeserving” Cup Finalists, criticized as arrogant and the “most hated team in the league”.
Next year, another club will reach the Final, or win the Stanley Cup, with a roster made up of great talent, hard-working role players, and those considered players “you hate to play against, but love to have on your team”.
Within a year, most of the unsportsmanlike aspects of the Canucks and Bruins will be downplayed and largely forgotten.
Until the league finally decides to eliminate such behaviour from the game once and for all, it'll always remain a part of playoff hockey.