Like so many other players in the NHL, even nice-guy Antoine Vermette has probably thought about reaching over the boards and clocking Andrew Shaw on the bench.
“Shawzie’s one of those guys that seems to attract attention from people,” Vermette said with a smirk. “I speak from experience.”
So it’s not terribly surprising that Nashville’s Mike Ribeiro, after losing a puck battle with Jonathan Toews late in the third period of Sunday’s Game 3, suddenly lunged over the boards and punched Shaw right in the face.
What is a little surprising is how little anyone seemed to care.
“Stuff like that’s going to happen through a series,” Shaw said.
“Stuff like that’s going to happen through a series,” Andrew Desjardins repeated, verbatim.
“It’s playoff hockey, a lot of stuff happens out there,” Vermette said.
“That stuff happens,” Niklas Hjalmarsson said.
Only in hockey. Imagine a baseball player marching into the opposing dugout and taking a swing at someone. Picture a football player running out of bounds on the far end of the field and throwing a haymaker. Or a basketball player diving into the opposing bench for a loose ball, and leaving a mark on someone’s face.
Ribeiro said Shaw was grabbing him from the bench as he battled with Toews, and he certainly appeared to be. Maybe Shaw said something, too. He usually does. But that’s just playoff hockey: night after night, lines match up against other lines, and the lines of decency blur.
The Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks have been fighting throughout their series, with 132 penalty minutes handed out after a Game 2-ending line brawl. Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien sucker-punched Anaheim’s Corey Perry in the back of the head after a goal Monday night and only got a two-minute minor for it.
It’s playoff hockey. Stuff happens.
“In the playoffs, you’ve got to expect everything,” Shaw said. “Anything can happen. … You’re lined up against the same guys night in, night out. If he gets a whack on you, you get a whack on him. You’re laying body on guys — it’s going to make it that much more intense.”
The trick is not to cross the line. A poorly timed penalty can prove costly. And while the league lets a lot go this time of year, suspensions do happen — Brent Seabrook got a three-game ban for a high hit on St. Louis’ David Backes last spring.
“The league has standards,” said Joel Quenneville, clearly irritated by the punch but clearly not wading into a potential fine-field. “That’s one of the things that they frown upon — players engaging from the bench, or from the ice to the bench, are no-nos. They watch that closely.
Weird things happen, “But those are weird things that they don’t tolerate,” Quenneville said. “So we’ve got to be smart about that.”
Ribeiro couldn’t believe it was still a topic of discussion two days later.
“It’s part of the game,” Ribeiro said. “I think you [reporters] like to get those things going, and it’s fun for you guys. But I think once the game starts, it’d be stupid of him to try to get it back.”
It’s a fine line to walk in hockey, especially in the playoffs. It’s also a line that Shaw lives on.
“It’s where I’ve always been, and probably always will be,” he said. “I’ve just got to make sure I don’t cross it.”