PITTSBURGH - The Pittsburgh Penguins head into the Stanley Cup playoffs this week leading the NHL in controversy.
They're taking verbal hits from a number of directions, so let's sort through them in reverse order.
n We'll start with Thursday night's salvo from always-intense New York Rangers coach John Tortorella. He was enraged after Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik caught Rangers center Derek Stepan with a knee-to-knee hit.
Orpik was given a major penalty for kneeing, which carries an automatic game misconduct.
Then he was slammed by Tortorella, who devoted his post-game comments to blasting Orpik and the Penguins.
"It's a cheap dirty hit," Tortorella said. "I wonder what would happen if we did it to their two whining stars over there. I wonder what would happen. I'm anxious to see what happens with the league with this. Just no respect among players. None. It's sickening."
Tortorella was presumably referring to Sidney Crosby and Malkin when he complained about whining players.
Asked why a play like that happens, Tortorella snapped, "Ask the guy who did it. Ask him. It's one of the most arrogant organizations in the league. They whine about this stuff all the time and look what happens."
Tortorella said, "It's ridiculous. But they'll whine about something else over there, won't they? Starting with their two [expletive] stars."
Tortorella then ended his post-game briefing by walking away.
Are the Penguins whiners? Crosby has been known to protest calls to referees, but that's what team captains do. They're advocates.
Back in the early 1990s, no call ever went against the Penguins that Ron Francis didn't protest.
The Penguins opened themselves up for charges of hypocrisy last year when co-owner Mario Lemieux decried the senseless violence practiced by the New York Islanders in a fight-filled game.
The Penguins may not have started what happened on Long Island, but they don't have a record for pacifism, either. At the time of Lemieux's strongly-worded statement, the Penguins led the NHL in fights.
The verdict: Tortorella has a legitimate beef about what happened to Stepan. It was an illegal hit, and rightfully called that way on the ice. No coach wants to see an important player potentially injured right before the start of the postseason.
But as rugged a player as Orpik is, he doesn't have a reputation for cheap shots, and it didn't look as though he intended to deliver the blow to Stepan.
Nonetheless, he has to live with the consequences, which include Tortorella's ire.
n Philadelphia Flyers assistant coach Craig Berube called Crosby and Malkin "two of the dirtiest players on their team."
"They slash, they punch guys in the face, they do all these little things. If somebody runs Crosby over, they should run him over. The guy gets away with too much, whines to the refs all day and all night. It's a joke."
In 17 NHL seasons as a left wing with five different teams, Berube played 1,054 games, scored 61 goals with 159 points. He had 3,149 penalty minutes.
So consider the source on this one. Remember also that the Penguins and Flyers have been headed for a first-round playoff series for a while now.
Is Berube planting a seed with officials? Is he setting them up for criticism if they don't keep a close watch on Crosby and Malkin?
There's definitely gamesmanship involved.
But let's also remember that Crosby got away with a couple of slashes in last Sunday's game against the Flyers.
Crosby grew up steeped in the Canadian game, and isn't above taking some shots and even dropping the gloves on occasion.
Malkin's biggest issue is responding to prodding from opponents, which often gets him retaliation penalties.
Berube is exaggerating for self-interest, but there can be an edge to Crosby's game.
n This all started with NBC commentator Mike Milbury, who ripped the Penguins after Sunday's game.
When Milbury made light of Crosby's concussion issues, he was completely out of line.
Crosby is hardly the only NHL player dealing with concussions. Here's betting that prominent players whose careers were cut short by concussions (Pat LaFontaine, Eric Lindros, Keith Primeau and Marc Savard) didn't find a lot of humor in Milbury's insensitive dismissal of brain injuries.
Milbury just talks. The Rangers and Flyers have the ability to do something about their feelings toward the Penguins.