May 24 — Codes, Brooms & Early Exits

Friday’s Forecheck

WINS A-BRUIN: Goalie Tuukka Rask became the Bruins’ all-time playoffs wins leader after Friday’s 4-1 Game 4 victory over the Capitals, earning his 54th career postseason triumph — breaking a tie with Gerry Cheevers. Spoiler alert: Win No. 55 came two days later en route to Boston’s series victory.

THIS REALLY HAPPENED: Latvia stunned the international hockey world after beating Team Canada 2-0 on Friday in the first day of competition at the IIHF World Hockey Championships. It was Latvia’s first-ever win against the Canadians in the tournament.

Saturday’s Snipes

EVERYTHING’S ROSEY: Vegas goalie Marc-Andre Fleury’s 4-0 win over Minnesota Saturday was his 16th career playoff shutout, tying Curtis Joseph for third all-time. He also moved into a fourth-place tie with Grant Fuhr by appearing between the pipes in his 150th postseason game.

MAKING A POINT: Auston Matthews made sure the Maple Leafs climbed back into their series with Montreal on Saturday, notching one goal and two assists in the team’s 5-1 Game 2 victory. Not to be outdone, Tampa’s Nikita Kucherov tallied one goal and three apples in the Lightning’s 6-2 Game 4 win over Florida, though unfortunately he left the game midway through the 3rd period and his status for Game 5 is uncertain.

Sunday’s Cellys

YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG: Team USA set the tone early in its 5-1 win over Canada on Sunday, burying this… oopsie… from Canadian goalie Darcy Kuemper to start the scoring. Whoops!

WE LOVE FREE HOCKEY: Sunday’s Hurricanes/Predators and Oilers/Jets games were already the ninth and tenth overtime games in this young playoff season. Though Nashville’s double-overtime 4-3 Game 4 win was thrilling, the Jets truly made it dramatic, overcoming a 4-1 deficit to eventually force overtime before winning the game in the extra frame.

When the “Code” is Broken

Team A’s player injures Team B’s player, so naturally the latter’s teammate steps in to “settle the score,” — part revenge, part self-policing. This is, fundamentally, the core component of hockey’s “code” — an unwritten ethos that governs justice unique to the sport. The problem is, it often makes little sense.

This was the case early in Thursday’s 2-1 Game 1 victory for the Montreal Canadiens over the Toronto Maple Leafs. In what was a highly unfortunate and freak accident, Leafs captain John Tavares was sprawled on the ice after a hit from Montreal defenseman Ben Chiarot, when Tavares happened to elevate his head as Corey Perry tried to jump to avoid him. As a result, Perry’s knee made direct contact with Tavares’ head and knocked him unconscious.

The collision looked brutal and violent, but it was also clearly inadvertent. Perry’s pest-like reputation aside, the veteran clearly had no malicious intent toward Tavares, jumping in an attempt to avoid him and even checking on him after the fact. Nonetheless, Leafs trade deadline acquisition Nick Foligno goaded Perry into half-hearted fisticuffs off the ensuing face-off — with Foligno later explaining, “Our captain is laying on the ice. They would have done the same if [it was] their captain.”

In other words, the code struck again. But seriously — what are we really resolving here? Was there a single player on the Maple Leafs who: a) believed Perry could have or should have done anything differently, and b) felt vindicated by a “going-through-the-motions” scrap between veterans?

Each sport has its own version of the code, many being rooted in outdated and largely nonsensical ideologies. In a recent Major League Baseball game against the Minnesota Twins, Chicago White Sox rookie phenom Yermín Mercedes homered on a 3-0 count with his team already up 11. As punishment for this violation of baseball “code” related to swinging on a 3-0 pitch, Mercedes was thrown at by a Twins pitcher in the next game.

Shockingly, old school White Sox manager Tony La Russa — a 76-year-old code protector — not only chastised his own star for failing to adhere to the unwritten rules, but went so far as to defend Minnesota in their attempted plunking of Mercedes. Apart from a gross disregard for sticking up for your own players, La Russa was blindly pushing a code that actively discourages performing at maximum effort for the duration of the game.

Both of these recent incidents have shed new light on the code and its role in modern sports. Foligno’s response to Tavares’ injury drew supporters and detractors — but the bigger question isn’t really about him at all. After all, if the former Columbus Blue Jackets captain was properly adhering to the code, maybe the very existence of the code needs to be reconsidered.

Break Out The Brooms

On May 13, 2021 St. Louis Blues captain Ryan O’Reilly was asked about his team’s first round matchup against the Colorado Avalanche. He said, “We know that they have a lot of talent over there and they work hard. But for us, it’s an exciting challenge. We’re going to have some fun and we are going to beat them.”

Fast-forward ten days and O’Reilly’s bold statement of victory didn’t exactly age well. Coming into the series without defenseman Vince Dunn, the Blues knew they had a challenge in defending the Avalanche’s top line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan Mackinnon, and Mikko Rantanen. Things got worse when both Justin Faulk and Robert Bortuzzo were injured in Game 2 as Colorado proved to be too much offensive firepower to handle — outscoring St. Louis 20-7 in four games.

While the Blues will be trading their hockey sticks for golf clubs, the Avalanche will prepare for their second round tilt against either the Minnesota Wild or Vegas Golden Knights. Colorado clinched the Presidents’ Trophy this season with 82 points and — historically — earning the top spot in the league has worked before in their favor. The last time the Avalanche finished the regular season with the most points in the league was the 2000-01 season — the same season as their most recent Stanley Cup victory.

There are similarities between this season’s Avalanche team and that championship team. In both seasons, the Presidents’ Trophy was clinched and a first round sweep was accomplished — the last time a Presidents’ Trophy winner has swept their opponent in the opening round.

Philipp Grubauer may not be Patrick Roy, but he is certainly trying to pull off his best impersonation, posting a better regular season save percentage and goals against average than Roy. In 21 postseason games during the 2000-01 season, Joe Sakic scored 13 goals and recorded 13 assists for 26 points, while in only four games this postseason MacKinnon already has six goals and three assists for nine points. Finally, although it is still early in his career, the smooth skating ability of Cale Makar often elicits comparisons to Ray Bourque.

There is no denying how good the Avalanche are this year — and the comparisons to their last championship season are uncanny — but we will have to wait and see if history can fully repeat itself.

In Memoriam

Please join us in a moment of silence for these recently eliminated teams — gone, but never forgotten. We can’t wait until we meet again (the 2021-22 season, of course!), but for now we’ll take this opportunity to reflect on a their brief — but memorable — playoff runs.

St. Louis Blues
Dates Active: 1/13/21 – 5/23/21
Cause of Death: Swept away by an Avalanche (lost 4-0)
Last Words: It’s a dirty job, but someone has to be the first team out!

Washington Capitals
Dates Active: 1/14/21 – 5/23/21
Cause of Death: Too much Pasta (David Pastrnak led all players with six points.)
Last Words: We gave up our first-round draft pick for this?

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