Here we are at Day 7 of the playoffs and the dominant topic of conversation today will be Game 3 Sunday night between the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators. There is a certain segment of the hockey watching population who loves this stuff. But even those people must have been clucking their tongues in disapproval over the nonsense that occurred in that game.
No place in the game for that stuff, they’ll say. And I’m not even just talking about the meaningless fights – highlighted by a line brawl that was precipitated by a nasty bit of stick work on the part of both teams and the manly P.K. Subban going after Kyle Turris for no apparent reason, then continuing to try to land blows on a lightweight after knocking him to the ice. The vicious elbows, the jumps from behind on 5-foot-8 rookies, the deliberate shooting of pucks at opponents, the WWE gesticulations after fights and the general shameful behavior should have everyone involved in this series embarrassed.
But they’re not alone. Dustin Brown should be embarrassed for attempting to take out Jaden Schwarz’s knee and decapitate him on the same play. The referees, who seem intent on removing any punitive measures for crosschecks to the back and have, generally speaking, been atrocious in this playoff, should be embarrassed. The NHL should be embarrassed that director of player safety Brendan Shanahan has become the most-scrutinized person and the biggest star of these playoffs. Henrik Sedin should be embarrassed for taking the butt end of his stick and drilling it into the back of Logan Couture’s head off the faceoff. Anyone associated with the Vancouver Canucks should be embarrassed.
But here’s the thing with the Ottawa-Montreal series, one that has had more hatred and nastiness in three games than any of the installments of the Battle of Ontario with the Toronto Maple Leafs ever did. You simply cannot have a game that encourages and supports a culture of violence the way hockey does and not expect nonsense like this to happen from time to time. It’s simply a by-product of the culture. If you’re going to have fighting, if you’re not going to call blatant stick work and muggings under the guise of “letting the players decide it,” if you’re simply going to accept that players need to jump players and punch them out as an outlet for frustration, then these kinds of things are bound to happen.
You can’t have it both ways, folks. You can’t have a sport that bases so much of its appeal on violence, then sit back and show disdain and disapproval when things go the way they did Sunday night between the Canadiens and Senators. You cannot have guys such as Brandon Prust in the league, celebrate him for the way he plays, then not expect him to go overboard on occasion.
But it’s all part of The Code, that nebulous piece of hockey legislation that nobody has bothered to write down. But there are two enormous flaws in the code. The first is that seemingly every perceived slight, every flamboyant goal celebration, every comment, every dirty play, is to be interpreted as an insult of biblical proportions and must be responded to with, not an equal amount of vengeance, but an act that makes an even more dramatic statement. It’s what prompts Ryan White to two-hand Zack Smith across the back of the legs in response to a crosscheck, which leads to a brawl. It’s undoubtedly how Josh Georges will rationalize drilling the puck at Kyle Turris late in the game after the Senators took a time out with 17 seconds left. Imagine that. A timeout. What an affront to their manliness.
The second area where the code falls down is that it allows hockey players to lose control of their emotions when they get frustrated. Every time one of these things happens, it’s always chalked up to how emotional a game hockey is and how you have to have played to understand that it’s perfectly fine for Subban to go after a smaller, far less physical player just because he was having a bad night and yelling at his teammates. It’s how people will explain why Sedin, who should know better, suddenly lost all control and gave Couture a head shot off the faceoff for no other reason than his team is done and he has done nothing in the playoffs. How a referee could see that and give Sedin just a two-minute penalty boggles the mind.
But largely because of this, as the playoffs progress, we’ll all go along our merry way and continue to accept this kind of stuff as an unavoidable sideshow to the game. What a bunch of bunk. Granted, you could suspend Eric Gryba for the rest of his career and you might never remove an instinctive hit like that from the game. But you can take the Dustin Brown debacles out of the game quite easily. Simply suspend him for a long time. It works. Just ask Raffi Torres, who had three more penalty minutes than Martin St-Louis this season – in nine fewer games, mind you, but you get the idea.
Chances are, not a single bit of supplementary discipline will come from what happened between Ottawa and Montreal Sunday night. Referees will continue to ignore flagrant violations of the rulebook. The league will continue to revel in selling hate. And when things get “dumb” and “stupidity” ensues – Paul McLean’s words not mine – we’ll all take it as a perfectly acceptable way to do things.
Carry on, then.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN's other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Ken on Twitter at @THNKenCampbell.