There are no saints in the playoffs

The latest chapter of the rivalry between the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks has taken on a life of its own. It took a while to get going, but when it got there, it was out in full force. Kris Russell’s last-minute game winner was stunning, but hardly the pinnacle of headlines.

That belongs to the fighting. And the goonery. And the hatred so strong it comes in waves off the ice and transmits through screens, not to mention the miles-long boxscores thanks to penalty minutes.

No saints, but no suspensions, either. Deryk Engelland was spared, as was Alex Burrows. Michael Ferland is not facing harsher punishments for his physicality, and neither is Dan Hamhuis. I can’t think of a third Flame to mention here, so maybe my bias is showing, but hey, even Kevin Bieksa, who took his feelings of irrelevance and charged them into an outright ambush, is getting away with it.

The league has essentially said two things:

  1. Cut it out, guys.
  2. But there aren’t really any consequences for your actions.

Of course, that second part will probably be cleaned up, now that each team has had their freebie (Bob Hartley’s wallet aside, but he’s the only one who entered this nonsense with a very recent history of similar behaviour). Although if you read Kent’s article earlier today, that might be hoping for a little too much.

Escalation

Game 1 was a pretty calm affair, and if I’m honest, it didn’t feel so much like playoff hockey as an extension of the regular season. A very welcome extension, and it was definitely still surreal and nerve wracking to start, but the Flames and Canucks have had more intense games in the preceding months. Season opener? Fighting to end lengthy losing streaks? A rookie goaltender holding on to a 1-0 lead? Game 1 wasn’t quite that.

The only penalties that happened were minor affairs, mostly courtesy of the Flames’ overzealous kids (who were the ones taking a fair number of penalties in the season closer, actually). A high stick? An easy goading? Puck over the glass? Tripping? Hardly enough to start a scrum.

But Ferland wouldn’t stop hitting, and Johnny Gaudreau kept getting targeted, and the Flames were down quick in Game 2. They stopped the bleeding, but focusing on their own wounds took too much time, and they were unable to initiate a counter.

Charge the net, scrum a little. Game’s still in reach, whatever.

Calgary’s down 3-0. Then 4-1. They’ve lost. Seek blood.

That was their moment. Forget the physicality of before; all right to complain was officially lost the second Matt Stajan threw his gloves off. Brad Richardson continuing to hit him down on the ice was disgusting, yes. There was no good excuse for Engelland to have been fighting two guys at once, no. But he started it, and he got back in it, and it was cathartic.

It felt good. When you can’t win anymore, but you’re going to have to face the very same opponent again in a matter of hours, you might as well go down swinging. You have something to gain from that. It makes sense in the near future. And it makes you feel better in the immediate, like you weren’t totally defeated by them.

Lessons for the opponent to take.

Peak

Winnipeg’s whiteout led to a discussion on colour psychology, and honestly: red is a scary colour. It just is. Confronted by it in large amounts, it can be very off-putting. It’s intense, passionate, and aggressive. Its strength allows it to bring out some of its worst aspects, including anger and agitation. 

While blue is stabilizing, red is wild.

And the Saddledome is very, very red.

That’s to say nothing of the actual context within the fiery enclosure. Quick goals for both sides, but a lead and punishing attack already kept the Canucks on their heels. Things were chippy, to be sure, but once again, things didn’t get out of hand until the game was firmly out of reach.

Calgary had already used its gimme; this time, it was Vancouver’s turn, and they took full advantage of it. Infuriated by a hard hitting rookie, frustrated by the creativity of smaller and tenacity of younger ones, the Canucks completely forfeited any high ground they may have had prior to the Game 3 by resorting to sneaky, dirty tactics as time ran out.

Jonas Hiller dove? Tough, you still don’t get to touch the goalie like that, and nobody even pushed Yannick Weber into him. You don’t get to hit people in the head. And if you continue going after one member of the team, the rest are going to step up. Alex Burrows was the aggressor, and Russell the defender. And Bieksa was the one who snapped against a player a decade his junior after days of pretending to not even know who he was.

Deescalation

Sports bloodlust is fun and all, but it’s also exhausting, and after two straight brawl-filled games – the fault of both teams – that’s probably enough. Game 1 didn’t have the same level of emotions, but a game winner with just 30 seconds to go is still some pretty exciting hockey.

It also allows for a more welcoming environment. And honestly, beyond three hour breaks every 48 hours or so, we all still have lives to lead, and things we want to enjoy. At some point, getting worked up over a lack of calls, or suspensions, or what idiots are saying online or the over-sensitive moodiness in real life has to stop. 

A week from now at the most, it’ll be done, anyway. Lingering feelings will probably remain, but they’re never as strong as they are in the immediate.

The last time I got this angry over sports was Sept. 13, 2014, long before any of us thought this playoff series was a possibility. The Calgary Stampeders were down 29-10 to the Toronto Argonauts at the half, and while I had full faith the Stamps would still be able to make a game of it, losing four starters over the course of the game – culminating with Bo Levi Mitchell – was bad. The frustration of so many good players getting hurt, combined with the desperate and all-consuming comeback, kind of completely took over; and when they got it but the Stamps were still missing four, I was drained.

Football and hockey are very different, but the nasty levels of behaviour both the Flames and Canucks have poured on brings about similar emotions. I’d still rather nobody get hurt; I’d still rather nobody get suspended.

We’ve all had our fun, now it’s time to breathe. The games will still be good. It’s the playoffs, so of course they will. Just hopefully now with a little more hockey and a little less psychosis.

    • beloch

      The league may not have suspended him, but karma did.

      Honestly, I hope he’s okay. Even if he wasn’t already on my list of all-time most despised Canucks, I really didn’t care for the crap he pulled on Sunday. However, he’s still human.

      • beloch

        whooa…a mega-dose of karma!

        Wonder if Bieksa rode to the hospital to get some electrolytes too…he is getting kinda old and is probably quite tired after 2 days of spewing and inciting.

      • Shooter 5567

        Certainly, not to make light – I hate to see bad things happen to anyone, but upper body to Burrows opens up so many one-liners: Yellow-fever is the first that comes to mind.

    • Avalain

      Carrying someone with an upper body injury on a stretcher sounds like a neck injury. That sounds really scary. Here’s hoping that he makes a fully recovery in a week or two.

  • MonsterPod

    Canucks News Release: Burrows sustained an upper body injury & was taken to hospital after practice this morning for precautionary reasons. Will not play tonight.

  • beloch

    Wow! Didn’t see the Burrows news coming!

    Am thinking Coach Willie will move Vrbata up to Sedin line and bring in Baertschi to replace Burrows offense? on the second line with Bonino & Higgins.

    Or possibly put Baertschi with Kenins and Horvat on the 4th line, halve the rookie line minutes and add them to the Sedin line given all the talk. Effectively shorten the bench to 3 main lines.

  • Shooter 5567

    Honestly, the good, wholesome part of me wants to wish him a speedy recovery; no one wants to see anyone get hurt.

    However, that’s just a very small part of me and this is playoff hockey. I hate Vancouver, I hate their trolling, unintelligent fans, and I hate Alex Burrows. If he didn’t get before the game he was definitely going to get hurt during it with Ferklund coming at him 100MPH.

    Flames in 5.

  • Flames Fan in Van

    Long time reader, rarely a commenter, but it’s great to have you on the roster of contributors, arii. Very well thought out and written articles, and your effort shows in the product.

    Nice of you to put a perspective on things, especially given how tempers have boiled over on both sides, fans and players alike.

    Although, I’m more than a little amused by the karmic justice Burrows received today, the guy (as much as we hate him as a hockey player) still has family and friends like the rest of us.

  • MonsterPod

    “…and after two straight brawl-filled games…”

    Man, I really think I must be old.

    I didn’t see brawl-filled games. There are more brawls in meaningless and emotionless exhibition games where AHL goons are scrapping for a spot.

    I just saw playoff hockey and I’ve been loving it. Mental conditioning is such an interesting thing.

    Growing up with boxing, sometimes a guy gets cut. Then the UFC comes along and there’s a guy on his back, blood gushing from an open wound, blood all over his body and the mat, all over the other guy and they’re still wrangling for position. I can’t watch that. It’s just way too much gore.

    But hockey has become tame compared to what it used to be, and we can all argue that it’s a good thing, but to look at this series with historic perspective, even societal perspective, and say that it’s been brutal or shockingly violent — it just doesn’t hold water.

    I get that the NHL is trying to tone things down, partly for a new generation of fans, partly to appease critics who don’t even watch the sport, and partly to avoid future concussion-related lawsuits. But to buy into the OMG sentiment is an entirely different thing.

    They were interviewing Hrudey and Kypreos and these guys loved it. They love the passion and aggression. The players love it. The fans in the building, in the moment, also love it. But yet we’re all supposed to poo-poo the honest outbursts and tsk tsk when boys are being boys at the end of a game.

    I realize I’m in the minority opinion, but I’m also happy to be here.

  • MonsterPod

    Are we really going to talk about team colors affecting play?

    The Jets aren’t a physical and potentially violent team because they aren’t red?

    The colour orange is supposed to be happy. Just ask Home Depot. The cup-winning Flyers, the broadstreet bullies, must have been really happy as they face-punched their way to two championships.