An NHL Game 7 is a funny beast because of the sudden disappearance of much of the "Hey, that's playoff hockey" garbage that players rightly espouse as they try to get an edge in the earlier games in a series.
When both teams' seasons are on the line in the same game, suddenly it no longer sounds like a wise move to commit blatant but non-play-related fouls under the assumption the refs won't call it because of the "Let the players decide the game" manifesto that is arbitrarily and intermittently enforced.
A post-whistle facewash, a classic Orpik crosscheck into the crossbar, an extra slash in a tit-for-tat (note: none of these things are technically legal, but I digress) quickly go from "gritty" to "incredibly stupid" if you happen to be the guy against whom the referees momentarily enforce the rulebook in the middle of their traditional playoff slumber.
Earlier in a series, while teams are still building battles within the war, it might be a "good penalty to take" or at least one that can be overcome. In Game 7, if it costs you the game, it costs you the season.
Tensions in the New York Islanders - Washington Capitals series have predictably risen throughout the past six games, and the Isles are without two key defensemen thanks to big hits. But overall this series -- relative to many others -- hasn't been that chippy or that dirty.
In terms of the sideshow stuff, the crescendo may have been at the close of Game 6 when all skaters on the ice paired off at the final horn after John Carlson sent one final late-but-not-all-that-late shot at the net.
Maybe that scrum was in a way the kind of tension release that fighting sometimes enables. Now it's Game 7, and these teams just might focus solely on playing hockey. Because the other stuff is too risky.
On that topic, here is Karl Alzner quoted by the Washington Post:
"It’s knowing what’s at stake and what’s important and hitting a guy after a whistle or saying something to a guy’s not important," defenseman Karl Alzner said. "Our heads are going to be in the right spot. We know they feed off that, some of their players play better when that’s the style of game, and we know we can’t feed into that. We’re a good team when we just play. We don’t need to get under team’s skins to be successful, I don’t think. We focus on other things."
Some Islanders who play better and thrive when things get stupid, you say? Their game hits another level when you try to agitate them, or that plays into their hands? Don't poke the bear, in other words?
Which Isles do you think Alzner might be referring to?
- The fourth line? (Don't Fall into Their Trap Theory)
- Cal Clutterbuck in particular? (Don't Stoop to Their Level Theory)
- John Tavares? (Don't Feed the Beast Theory)
- Kyle Okposo? (Don't Poke/Awaken the Bear Theory)
- Frans Nielsen? (As a rule, don't tempt Nordic gods.)
- Johnny Boychuk? (Just feels like he'll only laugh at you.)
- Scott Mayfield? (Yeah, probably don't go there.)
Let us know your theories as you chew your nails down to the quick.