The Vancouver Canucks drew a lot of attention in their 3-1 win over the Nashville Predators on Tuesday night, but it certainly wasn't for winning without star netminder Roberto Luongo.
The game itself was a sideshow to the hitting display between both teams, highlighted by Canucks defenceman Rob Davison knocking Nashville forward Scott Nichol out of the game in the first period. And shortly after that hit, the gloves came off.
Now it's one thing when a hit is dirty, but even when it's clean, the result is often the same - a fight breaks out. And that could be a reason why fighting is up 25 percent over last season's rate.
Sometimes it's just plain obvious that a hit is dirty and sometimes it's not. But if a hit in a game is within the rules and the referee doesn't call a foul, why is it that players sometimes do?
"I think years ago the line was a lot clearer," Predators head coach Barry Trotz told Vancouver's Team 1040 on Wednesday. "You look at the old vintage games on the hockey channel and if you crossed the line, you knew you crossed the line. I think the line has moved more and more, there's bigger hits, there's guys wearing shields and helmets, and all that protective gear and people are coming at each other. I don't think people in junior know where the line is, I don't think people in the AHL know where the line is, and it's starting to get gray in the NHL."
Hockey is one of the few sports in which players are, for the most part, allowed to police themselves. That being said, players know that if they cross a certain line, there will likely be some form of retribution coming their way. But at times the line between a cheap shot and a clean one is unclear. And just because the official doesn't throw up his arm doesn't mean an opponent won't be looking to get even for his teammate.
"It shouldn't happen when it's a clean hit," explained Toronto Maple Leaf forward Jamal Mayers. "But sometimes you think it's too hard of a hit and it's just a reaction to step up for your teammate."
Is it about protecting a team's star players? For some, that would seem to be the case, but it's certainly not limited to those instances. Certain players with reputations for stirring the pot may draw more attention even if a hit is clean, and that means their opponents will be ready to send a message.
"I think for the most part you see a star player take a big hit, almost all the time you're going to see the guy who made the hit answer for it to someone else," said Toronto Maple Leaf defenceman Jeff Finger. "If it's a fourth-liner or someone else, you might not have to pay the price."
Canadiens head coach Guy Carbonneau got a very close view of such a situation on Tuesday night when Montreal defenceman Andrei Markov was part of an incidental knee-on-knee hit with Flames blueliner Dion Phaneuf. Markov was immediately jumped by Flames forward Curtis Glencross and a general scrum ensued.
"It depends on who you hit," Carbonneau told reporters on Wednesday. "I think Phaneuf is one of those players and so is (Jarome) Iginla. I'm sure if you hit one of those guys, someone else will react quicker than if it was someone on the third or fourth line."