He didn't just clinch the series. By scoring a wraparound goal in overtime to win Game 5 of his team's Eastern Conference semifinal series against the New Jersey Devils on Sunday, Adam Graves of the New York Rangers also put an end to the bloodshed.
If you weren't playing with a metal plate screwed into a recently fractured bone in your left ankle (Devils left wing Dave Andreychuk); if your nose hadn't been broken for the second time in two weeks (Rangers defenseman Ulf Samuelsson); if you weren't playing with a shiner or didn't have sutures in your face or weren't nursing some injury (virtually every other player), well, dammit, you just weren't trying.
The Battle of the Hudson was a typical Stanley Cup playoff series in that the stakes—and sticks—were higher than in the regular season. This tournament is the roughest, toughest and the most intensely played in sports. The postseason is a time to grow a beard, test your threshold of pain and, if you're a New Jersey player, stand around in your opponents' crease.
Never follow a Devil through a minefield. Do not ask him to do the hokey pokey. These guys have a penchant for putting their feet where they don't belong. In three consecutive games against the Rangers, New Jersey had key goals disallowed when video replays showed someone with a forked tail on his jersey had preceded the puck into the blue semicircle in front of the net. The Devils' ill-timed trespasses in Games 2, 3 and 4 were the most obvious sign that this team, the best in the conference during the regular season, was off its game. After their 2-0 victory in Game 1, the Devils' faith in their trapping defensive system seemed to erode. They lost confidence, and the next four games.
The Rangers, often defensively feckless during a season in which they finished with 86 points—18 fewer than the Devils—have been airtight since the start of the playoffs, yielding 15 goals in 10 games. Why hadn't they played this way all season? "It gets boring," says New York defenseman Brian Leetch. What the Rangers had done this year, according to New York center Wayne Gretzky, was similar to a pattern his old powerhouse Edmonton Oilers teams once observed: Have fun during the regular season, defense be damned, "then buckle down in the playoffs."
Those rare occasions when the Rangers didn't buckle down provided goaltender Mike Richter with opportunities to demoralize the Devils. Richter stopped all but four of New Jersey's 182 shots he faced in the series. Many of the saves were memorable, none more so than his stop on right wing John MacLean in the final minute of Game 2. Richter moved out to challenge MacLean, then collided with him, losing, in order, his goal stick, his blocker and his glove. As the puck bounced dangerously around the crease, the partially denuded goalie flopped onto his back and finally slapped the disk away bare-handed.
"When we do score," said forlorn Devils defenseman and captain Scott Stevens, "it doesn't count." Stevens made this glum observation after Game 4 in New York, a 3-0 loss in which the Devils' frustration came to a full boil. It was as if the Rangers had suddenly taken on the disciplined persona of the Devils and the Devils had become Slapshot's Charlestown Chiefs.
With nine minutes to play, New Jersey winger Bill Guerin received a misconduct penalty for screaming at referee Mark Faucette and missed the rest of the game. Guerin's beef? Faucette had failed to penalize Rangers forward Esa Tikkanen after Tikkanen leveled goalie Martin Brodeur in a goalmouth collision. (Replays showed that the manic Finn had been nudged into Brodeur by Stevens.)
Eight minutes later and with the action taking place 80 feet down the ice, MacLean took a two-handed swing at New York wing Niklas Sundstrom, snapping a bone in Sundstrom's forearm. Then, in the game's waning moments, Devils designated brawler Reid Simpson came onto the ice spoiling for a fight. He ended up trading punches with Rangers defenseman Alexander Karpovtsev, who, despite his inexperience as a pugilist, landed a solid right to Simpson's face. As the dejected Devils left the ice, center Doug Gilmour and defenseman Lyle Odelein flipped off the jeering Madison Square Garden crowd.
No less shocking than New Jersey's loss of composure was the NHL's decision two days later not to suspend MacLean, whose slash ended Sundstrom's season. The decision, it was widely speculated, was a make-up call for the league's allowing New York captain Mark Messier to walk after he attempted to behead Gilmour in Game 2.