In 2007, the Anaheim Ducks punched, kicked, stomped, elbowed, obstructed, and won the Stanley Cup.
Don't get me wrong. That was a very talented team, led by guys like Teemu Selanne, Scott Niedermayer, and Chris Pronger, and backstopped by the duo of J.S. Giguere and Ilya Bryzgalov. They could play with anyone.
They were also the dirtiest team in hockey.
They won anyway, because the NHL has a long-standing habit of "letting the players decide the outcome of the game" by not calling anything they don't have to call.
When you do go a man down, you can pretty much do whatever you want, provided you don't get caught with too many men on the ice, or shoot a puck over the glass from your defensive zone.
(How stupid is that, by the way? You can practically behead players while short-handed, but don't you dare put the puck over the glass. It's akin to NFL officials letting players get away with late hits whenever they want, but not missing any false start calls. That, by the way, doesn't happen, because officials in other sports actually call infractions in the playoffs.)
This type of mentality -- an obvious league-wide issue -- has paved the way for teams like the 2007 Ducks, 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, and 2011 Canucks to succeed. All you need are a few officiating bounces, and you can win games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Last year, it was the Flyers benefiting from officials turning the other cheek. Never mind that Pronger is a shell of his 2007 self in virtually every way except his ability to be a dirty player. He doesn't skate like he used to, and he's not as sharp a player as he was when he was in his prime. It's called "getting old," and we all do it. Now, instead of using his size to shield players and win physical battles, he uses his size to interfere and obstruct, and since he's Chris Pronger, he gets away with it.
The Canucks certainly have talent, just like the Flyers did last year. The Sedin twins, Ryan Kesler, Mason Raymond (former Bulldog!), Alex Burrows, Manny Malhotra (welcome back), Christian Ehrhoff, Kevin Bieksa, Roberto Luongo, and others certainly have the skill and will to win the Stanley Cup.
Of course, the good is overshadowed by the bad, especially in the cases of Kesler and Burrows. Throw in guys like Raffi Torres and Maxim Lapierre, who have skill but are about as honorable on the ice as a December day in Fairbanks is long, and you have a group that should be killing a lot more penalties than they are.
Instead, you have officials looking the other way while the Canucks cross-check and hold their way through a five-minute major penalty kill, and you have Lapierre diving all over the place while Torres throws a flying elbow that goes undetected by anyone because he was unlucky enough to miss on the attempt. To make matters worse, captain Henrik Sedin and brother Daniel have both been guilty of embarrassing embellishments during this series.
It's infuriating, really, because guys like Raymond, Malhotra, Luongo, and Ehrhoff are talented, skilled, and honest players who just don't pull this crap, and they shouldn't have to be associated with a bunch of guys who do.
Alas, that is how you win, though. It's not necessarily about who the best or most talented team is.
(Though there is no denying that Vancouver is hella talented and very deep at all positions. Very impressive.)
It's about what team is willing to push the envelope and try to get away with more BS. More often than not, teams will get away with said BS, and they'll win as a result.
This is a message you can expect the rest of the NHL to begin receiving. It's a copycat world, after all.