After refusing to comment following the Sharks’ fisticuff-filled 5-2 loss to the Predators on Friday night, Wilson reacted incredulously Saturday to Trotz’s repeated attempts to blame the series’ physical tone and vindictive episodes on the Sharks.
“The rhetoric coming (from Trotz) is that we went there to start a street brawl, which is comical,” Wilson said after the Sharks’ 4 a.m. return from splitting the first two games in Nashville. The best-of-seven Western Conference series resumes Monday.
“Our responses aren’t about beating anybody up or any of that baloney. We took home ice from them. The pressure is on them now. We’re still in the driver’s seat. … We’ll win the game on the ice.”
Wilson is an eloquent veteran coach who’s no stranger to verbal sparring after taking three franchises to the playoffs on seven occasions. Yet he seems increasingly puzzled by Trotz, whose first playoff appearance ended with San Jose’s five-game victory in last season’s first round.
The series’ first two games were filled with physical play by both sides, but Wilson believes two important numbers tell the story: Nashville delivered two dangerous hits that knocked San Jose players out of the game while racking up 115 penalty minutes.
Scott Hartnell sidelined Jonathan Cheechoo in Game 1, though Trotz and Hartnell claimed the knee-on-knee collision was unintentional. Alexander Radulov then sent Steve Bernier headfirst into the boards with a hit from behind in Game 2.
While Hartnell avoided suspension Saturday when the NHL rescinded two misconduct penalties against him in Game 2, Wilson thought Radulov deserved more than a one-game suspension for clobbering Bernier – and then Trotz mystified Wilson by claiming that Bernier saw the dangerous hit coming, and braced himself for it.
“If you want to watch the video with me, he never saw it coming – and even if he did, he got knocked out! And (Trotz thinks) we started that. Sure, Bernie put a sign on his back that said, ‘Hit me. Knock me out.”‘
The Sharks haven’t determined whether Bernier has a concussion, or whether he’ll be available for Game 3. The rest of the Sharks agreed with Wilson’s criticism of Trotz’s remarks.
“Who cares about intent?” asked Bill Guerin, who is scoreless in his first two playoff games with San Jose. “It’s the action, and the league handled it. Whether you mean to or not, that’s what happens.”
Wilson’s only complaint about his club’s effort in Game 2 was its inability to score during the resulting five-minute power play, including a brief two-man advantage, after Radulov’s hit. Nashville even added a short-handed goal moments later, and the Sharks couldn’t recover in a game that ended with three separate fights in the final minute.
Trotz also blamed those scuffles on San Jose, noting that forward Ryane Clowe asked Hartnell to fight, then pre-emptively dropped his gloves.
“A lot of things were said on San Jose’s part about payback,” Trotz said. “We had our backs against the wall a little bit (in Game 2). We didn’t want to do anything to put ourselves down 2-0 in the series. We just want to play hockey, but they had different intentions.”
Utter nonsense, Wilson countered. Trotz – who has the final line change in a home game – put Hartnell and agitator Jordin Tootoo on the ice in the final moments, fully knowing something could happen after what Hartnell did to Cheechoo. Tootoo received a one-sided pounding from Clowe, while Hartnell’s jersey was pulled off during his fight with Mike Grier.
Though Wilson bristles at the notion, many observers are waiting to see how the Sharks respond to this physical challenge. Last season, the Edmonton Oilers thought they gained a mental edge on the Sharks in their second-round playoff series after Raffi Torres landed a momentum-changing hit on Milan Michalek on the way to four consecutive victories.
“(Nashville) loaded up on some big guys during the off-season to match up with us,” said Cheechoo, who is stiff but ready to play Monday. “I thought there were a couple of cheap hits by them to force guys out of the game. … It’s totally different from (Edmonton). It’s been fairly physical the whole way through.”