There’s been a lot of hitting so far this playoff season. The Edmonton Oilers (particularly Matt Kassian) are pounding the San Jose Sharks around. The usually low key Ottawa Senators are keeping pace with the Boston Bruins in the hit department. The New York Rangers and Montreal Canadiens averaged a combined 43 hits during the regular season, but in game one combined for 98. In game two, the Rangers alone threw 74 hits out of the 129 between them. Let’s just say the physical play has been ramped up big time in pretty much every series.
Pittsburgh and Columbus have been no different, with over 80 hits in game two. There’s one noticeable difference though in this series. The venom behind the contact. The disrespect. There’s been a few questionable hits league wide as far as leaving the feet a little or maybe getting a little overzealous in the force behind a push. But I’ve really noticed in almost every game that even with the cross checking in front to clear the crease, you can tell that’s what it is. The players push and push hard, but once the area is cleared and the danger is over, the pushing stops. It’s gritty, tough checking, no inch given, playoff hockey. Every team seems to know it except for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There wasn’t any one huge incident or any one player to pick out during game one and most of game two. There was just something about the way the Blue Jackets players carry themselves when they hack and check. I can’t even put my finger on it, but you could just tell something was going to happen.
The Penguins aren’t angels, but they are playoff experienced and tend to calmly shutdown after the whistle and walk away. The Jackets have had their scoring chances and haven’t much to show for it, so you can see why they’d be frustrated. You can see a cross check or a big hit getting a little out of control with the emotion. Like I said, that’s happened across the board so far. But the reaction by the offending player has always been “uh oh. whoops.” And to the players’ credit, the reaction of the victim in these cases so far has also always been “I know you didn’t mean that. It’s just a battle gotten a little out of control. If it happens again I’ll have to do something, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt on that one.”
What Matt Calvert of the Jackets did last night was nothing like this. In the dying seconds of a game that clearly has gotten away, he broke his stick over Tom Kuhnackl’s head like so:
Maybe the stick broke a little easily and made it look worse. Maybe he meant to get his shoulder. I could give him the benefit of the doubt too, if he didn’t react the way he did. The worst part about this is for him to see Kuhnackl clearly rattled and bent over. Even if he meant to get him in the shoulder, it’s obvious he didn’t. If he had just reacted in a different way, like a glove up in apology, or to even just skate away with a sympathetic look. But knowing he did break his stick over someone’s head, to then wave his arm in a “get over it” motion, and then to turn back around and immediately clock the defenceless, vulnerable, and hunched over injured player with a head shot is beyond unacceptable.
Anyone looking at this now knows:
a)you must have meant to cross check the head because you seem fine with it.
b)You showed no remorse for injuring someone.
c)You obviously meant to injure them because you went back and hit them again to make sure.
The cross check alone is a suspendable offence. The head shot to the injured and defenceless Kuhnackl alone is also a suspendable offence. So combined I’m hoping to see Calvert gone for the remainder of the first round. If we base it on history, though, Dubinsky only got one game for playing Crosby’s ear like a violin, so likely at most this will be two games.
That’s why we’ll continue to see this type of thing from the Blue Jackets going forward. I just hope if the Pens do win the series, there’s enough of them left to play the rest of the way.