Drop the gloves during the playoffs with SI.com's writers in the NHL Cup Blog, a daily journal of hockey commentary, on-site reporting and reader-driven discussions.
11:44 PM ET, 4/28/06
Hedican steps outside the norm
Posted by Michael Farber
Carolina Hurricanes defenseman Bret Hedican highsticked Richard Zednik in the second period on Friday night, a nasty, if accidental, swipe under Zednik's visor. Then the most delightful and extraordinary thing occurred. Instead of a post-whistle scrum, the Montreal Canadiens winger slowly got to his feet and began skating to the bench while, Hedican, headed for the penalty box, tapped Zednik on the back with his glove. Hedican was saying, simply, "Sorry."
Like Love Story, playing in the NHL is never having to say you're sorry. The only officially sanctioned gesture of sportsmanship is the post-series handshake, which might be heartfelt in many cases but is decidedly programmed. Random acts of hockey kindness rarely occur. Unlike football, helping up a fallen opponent after the whistle is considered bad form. But now in the biggest game of the season for the Hurricanes, trailing two games to one in the first-round series against Montreal, Hedican gave an unmistakable signal that he was more concerned for an opponent he might have injured inadvertently than the four minutes he would have to spend in the penalty box. For a game mired in stupid codes of honor and payback, Hedican had stepped outside the norm with a random act of sportsmanship.
After the game -- Carolina would win 3-2 to tie the series -- I asked Hedican if he would have done the same thing without the context of Game 3. (On Wednesday night, Justin Williams had accidentally high-sticked Canadiens captain Saku Koivu, causing a potentially serious eye injury that was still being evaluated Friday.) Hedican said yes, he would have. He wants to be known as a competitor, someone who will play a forward hard but straight up. "I've played this game a long time and had too many sticks in the face," he said. "That's not really part of the game. I don't want to be known for cheap plays. I asked Zeddy if he was all right."
The beauty of the Carolina-Montreal series has been its civility. On Thursday, Williams left a voice mail for Koivu, apologizing for the high stick, and then went out in front of 21,273 booing fans on Friday and was the best player on the ice with a goal and two assists. Canadiens general manager/coach Bob Gainey said nothing incendiary after the Koivu incident, dealing with it matter-of-factly. Carolina coach Peter Laviolette, seeing a goal disallowed by a dubious decision Friday, was properly circumspect in his comments. Compared to the barbs that flew between Philadelphia coach Ken Hitchcock and Buffalo coach Lindy Ruff early in that series and the mind games that Tampa Bay's John Tortorella and Ottawa's Bryan Murray played, the dignity shown by both coaches and teams has been a revelation, ennobling a sport that often succumbs to its basest instincts.
The hockey merits a B, but Montreal and Carolina both deserve an A in comportment.
Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the NHL, gets together with the officials prior to the playoffs to ensure they'll continue to enforce the rules as they did during the regular season. The refs do just that. And as a result, either he and they, or both, are the bad guys when your team blows a game?
Going by the irate, and mostly unprintable, emails I've received over the last few days, that's been the prevailing sentiment in four cities each and every morning during the first week of the playoffs. (Fans in the other cities probably were griping as well, but they were too busy celebrating a win to get all that worked up over it).
Sorry, but this loser's lament is a misguided attempt to point fingers anywhere but in the right direction. Do not blame Bettman. After a thorough search of the tape, I'm here to tell you he hasn't coughed up a puck in the defensive zone, missed his check or been caught flat-footed as an opposing player blew by him.
And do not blame the refs. They've been given parameters for the successful completion of their job, and they're simply following them. They want to keep working as deep into the playoffs as possible, and that will not happen if they conspire to confound your hometown heroes.
You want to know whom to blame? Blame the players on your team. Blame the guys who, after 82-plus games, STILL don't seem to grasp some pretty simple concepts, like: keep your hands on your stick, not on your opponent; use your stick to pass and/or shoot the puck, not to hook or trip or otherwise impede the progress of your opponent; and most important, keep your feet moving at all times so you don't get yourself into a position where you're forced to violate concepts 1 and 2.
Yes, it's really as simple as that.
Sure, I understand a bit of whining, because officiating never goes off flawlessly. That a pair of veteran zebras like Dan Marouelli and Dennis Larue missed Justin Williams high-sticking Saku Koivu is inexcusable. And the blatant interference that eliminated Jarrett Stoll from the play and allowed Nicklas Lidstrom to blast home the winner in Thursday night's Detroit-Edmonton match-up was one I'm sure Marc Joannette and Dean Warren now wish they'd caught.
And while there still are inconsistencies from game to game, the playoffs as a whole are being called with greater consistency than at any point in the past. That's because the officials understand they're being monitored more closely than the blackjack tables in Vegas, and they know they're expected to call what they see, rather than calling it as they see fit.
Sure, it's a bit of a cultural shift, but it's for the betterment of the game.
So if being forced to adhere to the rules doesn't work out to the advantage of your team this spring, that's too bad.
Flyers fans shouldn't be too ecstatic over their team's 4-2 Game 3 win. Speedy Buffalo has been getting firepower from seven different players who have accounted for their 13 goals in the series. Jason Pominville and J.P. Dumont scored hat tricks in Game 2, and 14 Sabres have appeared on the scoresheet so far, led by Tim Connolly and his five points (two goals, three assists).
The Flyers, on the other hand, have been riding Peter Forsberg and Simon Gagne, who combined have scored five of Philly's eight goals, and Mike Knuble (one goal, three assists). Forsberg didn't get his first goal until 194:81 into the series and it happened because the puck banked off Buffalo defenseman Jay McKee's right skate.
Unless the Flyers get balanced output from their third and fourth lines, it will take more than a few lucky Forsberg goals to win this series. Even Gagne, who has three goals and an assist through Game 3, wasn't completely confident that the Flyers have the ability to put away the Sabres. After winning Game 3, he said, "I don't want to say we're back in the series, but we're close." So if you're a Flyers fan, you may have to console yourself with a cheese steak from Jim's while you relive the glory of the Flyers' 1975 Cup finals triumph over the Sabres.