TAMPA - Entering Game 5 - clearly past the halfway point - of the Stanley Cup final, the series was tied two games apiece.
What was the topic of the series at this juncture?
It could have been about how two teams with little recent playoff success were fighting tooth and nail for the biggest prize in hockey. It could have been how two of the NHL's young stars - Calgary's Jarome Iginla and the Lightning's Vinny Lecavalier - led their teams to the Cup final. It could have been the feel-good story of small markets climbing to the top rung in the NHL.
It could have been any or all of those things.
Instead, the hot-button issues of this series were things such as dirty hits, fighting and suspensions. The 2004 Stanley Cup final between the Flames and Lightning was supposed to be a matchup of speed and skill vs. brawn and will. Instead it turned into a series of shenanigans.
The series was only three games old when six fighting majors were handed out, the most since 1986. The series was four games old when three Lightning players and one Calgary player were injured because of blows to the head.
The Flames' Ville Nieminen was suspended. The Lightning's Cory Stillman and the Flames' Martin Gelinas could have been suspended for elbows to the head.
"You never want to see anybody have a blow to the head or anything dangerous," Lightning center Brad Richards said. "But it happens in hockey a lot and the league tries to do as best they can every year it seems."
Yet it continues: the fights, the rough stuff, the frontier justice. And the NHL doesn't like it. The NHL, essentially, allows fighting. It's the only major sport that doesn't eject a player for fighting. But the fighting in this series and these playoffs is something the league is watching closely.
"It's a concern to me when it happens when it's not very meaningful, (such as) when the scores are a certain point, it's out of reach," said Colin Campbell, the league's executive vice president and disciplinarian. "That's a concern. I think we have to do something to rid ourselves of that. That's no good for anybody, no good for the game."
But it is predictable. A team is about to lose a game and it looks to send a message for the next game.
Campbell suggested the fight between Iginla and Lecavalier in Game 3 was simply a part of the game. It happened in the first period and both teams were trying to set a tone, get an edge.
On the other hand, the fight between Stillman and the Flames' Andrew Ference in Game 2 was an example of what Campbell called "meaningless." It happened late in a game already decided and simply was an attempt at retribution for Stillman's hit on Marcus Nilson in Game 1.
Along with that fight, include the hit Nieminen gave Lecavalier and the other blows to the head in the "meaningless" category. "You're never going to eliminate it," Campbell said. "It has been good hockey, but sometimes it crosses the line and it's easy for us to sit up here and distinguish it the day after in slow motion.
"When the players are doing it on the ice, it's tough. So I don't think (the cheap shots) are a problem. When it is a problem, we suspend them."