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Gretzky surprised by intensity and emotion of 2012 playoffs

TSN.ca Staff

4/19/2012 4:10:57 PM

Only a handful of players have played more Stanley Cup playoff games than Wayne Gretzky, so The Great One is no stranger to playoff hockey.

However, the intensity and physicality that has characterized the postseason so far has caught Gretzky by surprise.

"It's a little bit risqué right now," Gretzky told Philadelphia radio station 97.5 The Fanatic. "There's no question. Emotions are high in every aspect. And if you look at every series right now each and every team is playing with a little bit of a bite, and yeah it's a little bit surprising."

But Gretzky has noticed a change from the league's hard-hitting past and what has unfolded over the past eight days.

"They talk about the Flyers back in the '70s –guys like Bobby Kelly, 'Moose' Dupont and Dave Schultz - but you never really saw those guys go after guys like Bobby Orr or Mario Lemieux or Phil Esposito. It was just sort of honest, hard, rough-nosed hockey, and it's changed - there's no question - the players are bigger and faster and stronger today than they were when we played, and obviously there's a lot at stake playing for a Stanley Cup, and emotions are definitely really high and subsequently you're going to have issues."

While Gretzky acknowledged that the league is doing its best to corral the extra-curriculars, he offered up an alternative mindset for players trying to get under the skin of their opposition.

"The bottom line is you got to win the hockey game," he said. "That's where it hurts the most, not cross-checking the guy in the face. It's winning the hockey game that hurts players the most."

Having twice beaten the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final, Gretzky knows first-hand what it's like to try to win in Philadelphia in the playoffs. And the Hall of Famer has taken note of the ongoing rift between Penguins captain Sidney Crosby and the Philadelphia players and fans and believes Crosby's intensity is coming out on and off the ice.

"Whether it was Wayne Gretzky going into Philadelphia or Mario Lemieux or Sidney Crosby, you're going to be public enemy number one and the players are going to do whatever they can to throw you off your game," Gretzky said. "So he's just an emotional young man that wants to win. He's a tough kid that plays the game hard and emotions run high. And I'm not surprised - he just wants to be a winner and he wants to put his name back on the Stanley Cup, so emotions do run high."

With experience both in Philadelphia and as part of the heated Battle of Alberta between the Flames and Oilers that dominated the Smythe Division in the 1980s, Gretzky can obviously relate.

"The Flyer fans are great fans, as are Pittsburgh fans," he said. "When you have a rivalry, it's not just the individual player but it's the teams themselves and obviously the Flyer fans don't like the Penguin players and obviously the Penguins fans don't like the Flyer players."

"Reggie Jackson said it best: 'They don't boo you if you're a nobody. They boo you if you're a somebody.'"