More pucks zip past goalies, more players lie crumpled on the ice. The men who play the game and the hard-core fans who watch call this playoff hockey.

Say what? Before the Bruins took the ice Thursday night to play the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of their playoff series, the NHL had suspended nine players. And that’s just in the first of four rounds of the playoffs.

Seven players were suspended during the entire playoffs last year.

“There’s a simple explanation,” said Bob Corkum when I asked him to define playoff hockey. “It’s war. It’s a game taken to a whole new level.”

Hide the women and children. At least hide the television remote. Are we watching sports or mayhem?

Corkum is about 10 years removed from playoff hockey. He’s the associate head hockey coach at the University of Maine, where he played for four seasons back in the 1980s. He had a 12-year NHL career and skated in 62 playoff games.

The past week or so of the NHL playoffs has transfixed him. He can’t pull his eyes off what he’s seeing. Neither can you. The television screen does little to lessen the intensity.

“This is hockey taken to a whole new level,” said Corkum. “It’s 20 guys (dressed to play for a team) willing to do whatever it takes to win. It’s not about the money. It’s about winning the Stanley Cup with your teammates.”

Corkum, the former elite player, is not that different from the rest of us. He can wince when he sees a player take a hard, extracurricular hit and drop to the ice.

“Some players (delivering those hits) may be crossing the line. I absolutely think those hits are not meant to intentionally hurt others. They’re so juiced up, their emotions get the best of them.”

Take Carl Hagelin, a rookie with the New York Rangers with no priors. He was tossed for three games for elbowing Daniel Alfredsson in the head. Alfredsson was injured and Hagelin texted an apology to him. The regret doesn’t absolve the act. What happened to the mental discipline that separates them from us?

Raffi Torres of the Phoenix Coyotes — the parent team of the Portland Pirates — was suspended indefinitely after he launched himself at Marian Hossa of the Chicago Blackhawks, dropping Hossa and injuring him. Hossa didn’t have the puck. Unlike Hagelin, Torres has priors.

Torres’ hit crossed a line, said Chicago winger Andrew Brunette, a fan favorite when he played for the Pirates in the 1990s.

“I don’t know if it’s getting scary but there’s things that should not be happening,” said Brunette to the Chicago Sun-Times. “When you don’t have the puck, I don’t think you are fair game. And it seems to be happening all through this playoff season. Obviously we’re not getting the message. In the history of the game, hitting is used to dislodge a player from the puck, not the intent to injure.”

No, hitting is done to intimidate. To exhaust an opponent emotionally, if not physically. “You’re trying to break the other team’s will,” said Corkum. “People saw the Bruins do it last year with Vancouver (in the Stanley Cup finals.) It worked. I think that’s why you’re seeing teams being so physical this year.

“The surprise is you’re seeing it in the first round. It’s truly incredible to see that for four rounds. You’re physically beat down when you reach the Stanley Cup round. That’s why you see such emotion when you win. Only you know how hard it was to be able to hold that trophy.”

Corkum and the New Jersey Devils were one win from the 2001 Stanley Cup. Instead, Ray Bourque and the Colorado Avalanche won Games 6 and 7 and the championship. Corkum hasn’t forgotten. He had thought about lifting the Stanley Cup for his lap around the rink. It didn’t happen.

“The regular season is played for the fans and for the owners, so they can make their money,” said Corkum. “The playoffs are for the players. No one has to tell us. We know. That’s how it gets so intense. That’s why you see players do things they don’t do during the season.”

Like Brian Boyle of the Rangers scoring three goals in three playoff games after scoring only 11 in 82 regular-season games. Like his teammate, Hagelin, taking the first major penalty and suspension of his NHL career.

Playoff hockey. For better and worse.

Staff Writer Steve Solloway can be reached at 791-6412 or at:

[email protected]