There is no doubt that the New York Rangers outworked the Washington Capitals on Sunday afternoon to cut the Caps series lead to two games to one. However, there is also no doubt that the Blueshirts have stepped over the line with some of their physical tactics in this series. In game three they repeatedly charged the crease and made contact with Capitals netminder Michal Neuvirth on several occassions and one of the incidents resulted in a goalie interference penalty on Erik Christensen. Trying to get the goalie off of his game by bumping him or getting bodies in his face has been around as long as the game has been played, so I don’t take much issue with that, as long as the referees make sure to whistle infractions when they are warranted. Caps Coach Bruce Boudreau felt that the Rangers were given too much liberty around the net and made a point of bringing that up after Sunday’s tilt in his post game presser.
But the bigger issue to me is what we’ve been seeing from the Rangers since game one and it is sickening and bordering on pathetic: the constant unnecessary hits thrown at the head of Washington’s Mike Green. I blogged about both the goalie contact issue and the unnecessary shots to #52’s noggin in my game three recap and the Green situation was addressed by Boudreau at today’s Caps optional skate at Kettler Iceplex, specifically Marc Staal’s diry hit to Green’s head right before the Alexander Ovechkin goal (h/t to Mike Vogel of WashingtonCaps.com and Katie Carrera of The Washington Post for the quotes).
“It was to the side of the head and it was a dirty shot. I hope the league looks at it,” Boudreau said to reporters after an optional practice at KCI on Monday. “Let’s face it, I’m listening to all the experts last night on the [Raffi] Torres hit on [Brent] Seabrook, they’re all saying there’s no puck. It’s not a hockey play. The guy’s in a vulnerable position and he hits the head. That’s exactly what we’re trying to get out of the league. And Staal comes in, there’s no puck, he takes his arm, he swings it at [Green’s] head, but it’s all forgotten because we score a goal to tie the game up.
“But it shouldn’t be forgotten and it wasn’t the only time they targeted Mike’s head,” Boudreau continued. “They targeted it a few times. That’s what we want to get out of the game.”
Ever wonder why NHL coaches and general managers don’t want to reveal injuries? All you have to do is watch how coach John Tortorella’s squad has targeted #52’s head since the commencement of this series to see why all injuries should be kept a secret, because the other team will go after that area to try and take that player out of the game or series if they are desperate and think it will give them an advantage. Mike Green, a two time Norris Trophy finalist, is a difference maker for the Caps and clearly another head injury to #52 would be a big boost to the Rangers chances of winning this series. Do the Rangers really want to win that way? Watching Brandon Prust come in and hit Green behind his own net while putting his arms up around #52’s head in period one was yet another clear sign to me that New York will do whatever it takes, even if it is cheap and classless, to get an edge in this first round matchup.
The Rangers know that the Caps are the more skilled team and unless they find a way to take one of the Capitals key players out of the series they likely aren’t going to prevail. What makes this tactic even worse is that we are talking about a topic that has been front and center of NHL discussions for at least the last year: head injuries. That is why it is so surprising that New York would stoop to such a low level by going after Green in that area, because they know he recently recovered from a concussion and they also know that the league is supposedly cracking down on this stuff. I say supposedly because NOTHING has been called so far in this series on New York when they’ve hit Green up high. Brandon Dubinsky flat out hammered Green in the head late in game two along the boards in what sure looked like a penalty. I asked #52 about that hit immediately following game two and he shrugged it off as #17 finishing his check, but Green wasn’t going to stir the pot or complain to the media after Washington was up 2-0. On Sunday the Rangers took those dirty moves to another level with the actions of Staal and Prust. Like Boudreau said, those type of hits have no place in the game, and I’m also surprised that a quality coach like Tortorella, who has already won a Stanley Cup, would want his players to employ this dirty tactic just to win a playoffs series.
As for the NHL and its’ crew of officials, so far I am pretty disgusted that they haven’t done anything about the clear targeting of Green’s head. I am okay with clean body checks but all one has to do is go back and watch the video to see the dirty infractions from New York on #52 in this series. This cannot continue in game four and beyond, it must addressed immediately. Does the league want cheap shots to the head taking out their top players in the most important time of the year, especially when they are just returning from a known head injury? Green should be protected from these cheap shots just like any other previously injured hockey player. After all, there is a certain #87 who is dealing with a concussion who will hopefully be back on the ice very soon. I am willing to wager a large sum of money that if anyone dares come anywhere near Mr. Crosby’s head, that the book gets thrown at that player, and RIGHTLY SO! Let’s get smart and consistent NHL and start cracking down on this buffoonery from the Rangers.