EL SEGUNDO, Calif. – As the games have grown more important during the Stanley Cup playoffs, fighting has all but disappeared.
Only one set of fighting majors has been assessed since the second round ended and the tussle between Ryan McDonagh and Adam Henrique in the Eastern Conference final was more wrestling match than brawl.
With the Los Angeles Kings and New Jersey Devils set to play Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final on Monday night, there is very little chance of seeing players drop the gloves. The teams might be in a battle for a championship but it’s a battle that is generally free of punches to the face.
“There’s a lot more at stake,” said Kings captain Dustin Brown. “If you jump someone and get a two-minute penalty or instigate a fight and you’re out for 17 (minutes) as a key player, it could be the difference in the game. I think everyone just kind of has a focus on the bigger picture at this time of year.”
It’s a point that gets raised every time the debate about fighting in hockey gets reignited.
While it’s quite common to see players square off with one another in the regular season, it’s an extremely rare sight when the stakes are at their highest. There have only been two fights in the Stanley Cup final since the lockout—and one involved superstars Evgeni Malkin and Henrik Zetterberg late in Game 2 of the 2009 Penguins-Red Wings series.
Boston’s Dennis Seidenberg and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler squared off during a lopsided Game 3 at TD Garden last year.
The Kings feature a number of players who are unafraid to drop the gloves—forwards Mike Richards, Dwight King and Jordan Nolan all found dance partners in the second round against St. Louis—but they’re reluctant to even think about doing it now that the Stanley Cup is on the line.
“Everybody wants to stay on the ice,” said Richards. “You don’t want to run the risk of maybe the ref seeing it differently or putting yourself at a disadvantage or even getting hurt. Anything can happen in a fight.
“Obviously, it’s not the time of year to take undisciplined penalties and you’ve got to make sure you keep it between the whistles.”
This year’s playoffs started with all kinds of animosity that resulted in a fight-filled first round. Even though the number of major penalties has dropped sharply since then, it doesn’t mean the games have been any easier to play.
If the NHL playoffs prove anything, it’s that there can be a lot of fight shown on the ice even if there isn’t actual fighting.
“I think the physicality of the game has actually picked up even more recently,” said Devils defenceman Andy Greene. “So much more is on the line.”