NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14: Matt Carkner #39 of the Ottawa Senators and Brian Boyle #22 of the New York Rangers are at the bottom of the pile in this first period battle in Game Two of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Madison Square Garden on April 14, 2012 in New York City. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
There will be disagreement on the conduct of the Ottawa Senators in Game Two of their Eastern Conference Quarter-Final series against the New York Rangers. Some--especially Rangers fans--will not like it one bit. Others--especially Senators fans--will, at least mostly, like it. After seeing so many Senators teams fail to step up physically in the playoffs through much of Jacques Martin's tenure, it's nice to see the team make a statement. More importantly, though, their conduct paid off. It wasn't pretty, but that doesn't matter: The series is tied at one and the teams are flying to Ottawa with a best-of-five series ahead of them.
Typically, I'm not a big fan of fighting in the NHL. I think it's usually a waste of energy, and it's not something that should come into a game that's refereed fairly. When the game isn't refereed fairly, though, players feel they have to take things into their own hands. Vigilantism isn't an optimal solution, but when sanctioned powers fail to exact justice, things will boil over.
Things boiled over on Saturday.
After the Rangers were virtually rewarded for Brian Boyle punching Erik Karlsson in the head on Thursday (coincidental penalties took the much more dangerous Karlsson off the ice while Ottawa was on the powerplay), the Senators felt they needed to make a statement. To do so, Paul MacLean beefed up his lineup by inserting 12' 4" and 446 pounds, in the form of Matt Carkner and Zenon Konopka.
Even if you didn't watch the game, you know what ensued.
Carkner challenged Boyle just minutes into the game, and when Boyle didn't drop his gloves, Carkner fought him anyway. Forcing someone to "pay the price" for their past indiscretions doesn't typically work if you ask them nicely; Carkner told Boyle they were fighting, Boyle said he wasn't, Carkner stopped talking. End of story.
Obviously, it wasn't optimal for the Senators to go down to five defencemen for the rest of the game. But had Boyle simply answered the bell for his actions and dropped his gloves early--just as Shea Weber did when challenged by Todd Bertuzzi--the whole situation would have ended out better for both teams. Neither Carkner nor Brandon Dubinsky would have been kicked out of the game, and the hatchet would have been (mostly) buried. Unfortunately, that didn't happen.
I find it hard to fault Carkner much here. First off, this wasn't a decision he made: Paul MacLean made this decision when he dressed his fighters.
Secondly, it shouldn't have been an issue nearly as big as it was, because Boyle should simply have matched up with Carkner. Yes, Boyle is an inexperienced fighter and Carkner is a league heavyweight, but Boyle has a height and weight advantage and could have simply tied up Carkner's arms until the linesmen jumped in. Done.
Thirdly, he threw two glancing blows and then five body shots; this wasn't a massacre, it was a game of pattycake. Boyle was, obviously, no worse for wear (he fought and scored later in the game), and likely took more punishing hits at other points in the game.
Most importantly, consider this: Teams will do anything they can to win playoff games. That's why Brian Boyle roughed up Erik Karlsson in the first place--he figured he'd get away with it. Unless referees clamp down and restrict things, teams will push the limits of what they're able to do in order to gain an advantage, however slight.
Ottawa pushed the limits on Saturday, and it worked out for them. Game Three should be even more exciting.