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Rough stuff


It's not much different than singing the virtues of liver and onions to those who won't touch them with a 10-foot fork, but this space wishes to say that if you've ever needed a reason to watch the NHL, this season's playoffs are providing plenty -- reasons, not liver and onions. The upcoming showdown between Sidney Crosby and consummate showman Alex Ovechkin (this space's choice for best, most electrifying player on the planet) ought to be corkin' good in a purely sporting sense, not to mention downright lively if a classic rivalry in the making is your thing.

If you only fancy Slap Shot antics, well, you may get 'em. The first round had plenty: eye-gouging, biting, and New York Rangers coach John Tortorella coming off the spool and getting suspended for squirting water at abusive fans in Washington and then nailing a woman in the noggin with his waterbottle.

This space consulted SI's sage Michael Farber about the last time an NHL coach got himself consigned to a luxury box during the playoffs and all we could come up with was Jim Schoenfeld of the Devils receiving a game off for angrily suggesting that on-ice official Don Koharski avail himself of another breakfast pastry after Game 3 of the 1988 Wales Conference Finals. But that wasn't a roundelay with a fan. And Edmonton Oilers coach Craig MacTavishripping the tongue out of the Calgary Flames' mascot in 2003 occurred during the regular season.

Tortorella, who is so tightly-wrapped that he seems two ticks of a time bomb away from a stroke, seems to occupy rare turf in a time-honored sports tradition. Exchanges of pleasantries between fans and players, or fans and coaches, include such notable incidents as Baltimore Oriole John McGraw getting into a fight in Boston in 1894 and the ballpark burning to the ground, Mike Milbury's oft-cited-here 1979 journey into the stands at Madison Square Garden, the Piston-Pacers Malice at the Palace of Auburn Hills in 2004 and Texas Rangers reliever Frankie Francisco presenting a chair to a fan in the Oakland stands that same year.

Such monkeyshines will always be with us, and in these dire economic times may become more frequent and spirited. Alas, there's only so much that teams and leagues can do short of surrounding the playing areas with honky tonk-style chicken wire, like the NBA used to do in its early days. The Capitals plugged the gaps in the glass behind the Rangers' bench for Game 7, but the Italian soccer federation may have the best idea. It ordered Juventus to play in an empty stadium as punishment for racist catcalls by the team's fans at Inter Milan striker Mario Balotelli.

In one of the more ghoulish tales of a player taking umbrage with an official, it appears that one Ladislav Scurko has been charged with stabbing hockey referee Marek Liptaj 14 times in January 2008 and burying his lifeless form in a Slovakian forest. It's unsettlingly ironic that Scurko is a former prospect of the Philadelphia Flyers, who are infamous for their Broad Street Bullies tradition of goonery, though Scurko's alleged dark deed makes current Flyers thugs Daniel Carcillo and Riley Cote look like lightweights.

Speaking of horror stories, it's been two-and-a-half long months since he hung 'em up yet again, so it's about time that the He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named-Is-Backrumors are starting to fly. Yes, this man is like Lord Voldemoort or Freddie Krueger. Just when you think you've finished the hideously wizened menace off once and for all, he suddenly rematerializes . . . again and again. The Minnesota Vikings are said to be the next recipients of the kind of nightmare season that the New York Jets recently failed to survive.

Speaking of nightmares, as Swine Flu continues to spread across the globe, assorted sports associations and teams are taking preventive measures. Among others, CONCACAF suspended its beach soccer championship in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, as well as the rest of its under-17 championship, and moved the second leg of the Champions League finals back to May 12. Meanwhile, Arsenal has quarantined Mexican striker Carlos Vela. Over here in the States, the New York Yankees have done their part to minimize contact between possible flu-carrying fans by wildly overcharging for seats, although their recent price cuts may end up putting lives in jeopardy. Seems the Yanks just can't win no matter what they do these days.

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Perhaps you recall Lonnie Smith, an outfielder known as "Skates" who graced the Major Leagues with six teams from of the 1978 to '94. Ol' Lonnie was given his distinctive nickname for frequently slipping and sliding while in pursuit of fly balls. It seems he has a worthy successor in New York Mets leftfielder Daniel Murphy, who is surely a big favorite among aficionados of high adventure and classic Mack Sennett slapstick. Here are two of Murphy's finest works to date -- Splendor in the Grass and East St. Louis Toodle-oo.

Readers occasionally write in to point out -- in no uncertain terms, mind you -- that we here in the boilerroom at have misspelled a name or gotten a photo caption wrong. All we can say in our defense is that ugly stuff happens whilst handling a lot of material under tight deadlines, so we feel sympathy for the Washington Nationals who recently took the field with their team name misspelled on the front of their shirts. On the plus side, reader Brian Donohue of Brooklyn, NY reports that that the idea has caught on and will likely produce the next wave of hot merchandise.

Carl Edwards' recent hair-raising flight into the fence at Talladega, which left seven spectators injured by debris, leads the space to suggest that NASCAR strongly consider switching to chocolate-powered cars made entirely of vegetables. Worst that can happen in a crash like that one is fans get showered with snacks.

If you're like this space, you've been lying awake at night wondering just what goods Karen Sypher can possibly have on Louisville hoops coach Rick Pitino, who was moved to call in the FBI. A criminal complaint of extortion has been filed against Sypher, whose hubby happens to be the team's equipment manager. Allegedly, Sypher has demanded a house, cars and some moolah-rey in return for keeping the lid on her dirt.

Well, according to our otherwise reliable source at Slumberhaven Cemetary, some digging has revealed that Sypher's husband let a little unfortunate pillow talk slip after he stumbled onto Pitino's fondness for attending puppet shows, singing along (loudly and off-key) to Hillary Duff records and wearing plaid slacks when he thinks no one is looking.

No wonder Rick called in the feds. But he can rest easy. His secrets are safe with this space.

If a barbed comment leaves Ragweed, Oregon at 3 pm traveling east at a rate of 186,300 miles per second and a coarse insult departs Oniontown, NY at the same time travelling west at the same speed, at what time will they collide in the brainpain of the poor slob who puts this dreary collection together each week?

Need to find out?

Merely place your wurst in the handy space-time transporter window on your right and click SEND. Then check your pocket watch as soon as you hear the piercing scream.