If Brendan Shanahan is feeling a little persecuted these days for his belated sense of justice, he can always look to Nashville for some southern hospitality.
He certainly won’t find any in Detroit, where Shanahan spent most of his playing career, winning three Stanley Cups in nine seasons with the Red Wings. No, the Red Wings fans forgot all about that the instant Henrik Zetterberg’s face hit the glass, propelled by Shea Weber’s meaty hand.
But it is highly unlikely the NHL’s lord of discipline will ever have to buy a drink in Music City, not with Weber leading the Predators to a 2-1 lead in their first-round Western Conference playoff series with the Red Wings. The Predators defenceman established himself as someone to keep an eye on for the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP in Sunday’s 3-2 win – a goal to break Nashville’s 0-for-12 power-play slump, once again leading all players in ice-time with 27:06, four shots on goal, three blocked shots and three hits, all either first or second on the stats sheet.
That it came against the Red Wings is especially sweet for Nashville fans, since the large number of transplants from Michigan in their area makes the Motor City boys the Predators’ biggest rivals. And the Red Wings are also behind some of the Predators’ playoff frustrations in their 13 seasons in the NHL, having eliminated them in the first round in 2004 and 2008.
None of this would have been possible, of course, without Shanahan. Before finding his inner hanging judge late last week, Shanahan declined to suspend Weber for making like Hulk Hogan with Zetterberg.
The fellow who operates CapGeek.com figured the $2,500 (all currency U.S.) fine Shanahan levied on Weber, the maximum allowed under the collective agreement, was the equivalent of $16 for someone who makes $50,000 per year when Weber’s $7.5-million stipend was taken into consideration. Not a bad price to pay when you consider what happened to the Wings when Weber was left in the lineup.
Aside from reviving the power play, logging superstar minutes, blocking shots and laying out bodies so goaltender Pekka Rinne can shine even more brightly, Weber is also neutralizing the Red Wings’ biggest offensive weapon, centre Pavel Datsyuk. It is no coincidence Datsyuk finally scored his first goal of the series in Game 3 Sunday when Weber was taking a rare breather on the bench.
And Weber owes it all to Shanahan.
Now, Predators fans may argue even though Shanahan did not suspend Weber for one game, he effectively neutralized the big defenceman in Game 2, which Detroit won. Along with the $2,500 fine, Shanahan sternly wagged his finger at Weber and warned him no further shenanigans would be tolerated.
So, after he submitted to the frontier justice of a fight with Red Wings forward Todd Bertuzzi, Weber was not as much of a factor in that game. He was far less engaged, seemingly preoccupied with potential repercussions from Shanahan, and the Red Wings were able to tie the series.
By Game 3, Weber was back to his old self and the Predators happily followed in his wake. Asked about the hostile reception he received at Joe Louis Arena from the Detroit fans, Weber shrugged and said, “Whatever.”
But if Shanahan suspended Weber for even one game it is unlikely the Predators would be in charge of this series. You could say the Red Wings would have won Game 2, as they did with Weber on the ice, but the real difference would have come in Game 3.
If Weber were coming off a suspension in that game, he would likely have played as tentatively or even more so than he did in Game 2. Then, instead of being down a game with Weber back in the groove, the Red Wings would be up one and not contemplating the possibility of falling behind 3-1 on Tuesday night.