One touch of the television remote flips you between two games, both involving speed, passing, shooting and goals – yet they could not possibly be more different.
In the Euro 2020 soccer tournament, every brush is an assault, every tumble demands writhing and grimacing in pain, the injury so severe that the downed player may never walk again.
In the Stanley Cup playoffs, playing hurt and not complaining is as much the culture of hockey as diving is in the culture of soccer.
There are moments in spring hockey that take on legendary status. Bobby Baun not only played on a broken ankle in the 1964 playoffs, but scored a crucial overtime goal in the final to propel his Toronto Maple Leafs to a Stanley Cup victory. Nearly a half-century later, it was Boston Bruins centre Gregory Campbell blocking a slapshot from Evgeni Malkin of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2013 Eastern Conference final. The shot broke his leg and sent him sprawling to the ice, yet he got back to his feet and finished his shift.
Wednesday night in Las Vegas, key members of the Montreal Canadiens defence looked like they should have been waiting in emergency rather than protecting a lead that ended with a 3-2 victory over the Golden Knights. It was a must-win situation that left the semi-final series tied at one game apiece, with the teams now in Montreal for Games 3 and 4.
Team captain Shea Weber, slashed on one or both thumbs, is thought barely able to hold his stick, yet never complains, never even talks about his injuries.
The team’s top-scoring defenceman in the regular season, Jeff Petry, returned to action after missing two games with dislocated fingers. In a freak accident, his glove had become stuck in a photographers’ hole in the Plexiglas. He played wearing a specially reconstructed glove and was a major factor in the Canadiens’ victory.
“They don’t win this series if he’s not in the lineup,” Hockey Night in Canada’s Kevin Bieksa said before it was announced that Petry would be returning earlier than expected.
In fact, there was some confusion right up to game time as to whether he would be playing. When the team tweeted out its lineup during the warm-up, he wasn’t listed. But later, when the NHL published the official lineup on its media website, he was.
Shortly after the game began, a camera caught a close-up and, instantly, it was not Petry’s fingers that fans were talking about: it was his eyes.
According to Sportsnet’s Kyle Bukauskas, Petry is suffering from “bilateral subconjunctival hemorrhage.” During Thursday’s media availability, the fiery red eyes of Petry commanded the opening question. The condition, Petry said, is “all related to the incident” that broke his fingers, but he wouldn’t elaborate any further on that.
His wife, Julie, he said, had warned their young boys that their father’s eyes were now blood red. “They didn’t want to look at me,” he said. And so, he devised a game in which he played the villain and they the superheroes who subdue the red-eyed villain.
“That got them a little relaxed,” Petry said.
He did not play the villain Wednesday night, but he did play the pivotal role expected of him. He had Montreal’s first shot on net. He assisted on Tyler Toffoli’s goal that put the Canadiens ahead 2-0. He blocked Vegas shots and had just short of 21 minutes of ice time. He knocked Golden Knights players down, none of whom writhed in pain, and was critical on defence as Vegas launched a late-in-the-game charge that came one goal short of forcing overtime.
“It was good to see him back and the way he played,” Montreal head coach Dominique Ducharme said. “He’s a gamer. When you get in critical games, he’s at his best.”
The 33-year-old Petry has been a late bloomer in hockey, an American college player who signed with the Edmonton Oilers and bounced between the minors and NHL. In 2015, the Oilers traded him to Montreal for a second-round draft pick and a conditional fifth-round pick. Each year he improved until, in the shortened 2021 season, he was scoring at an impressive .78 points a game.
Petry’s defence partner Joel Edmundson said Wednesday that Petry “has been our best defenceman all year, so obviously, when you miss a guy like that, you want him back as soon as you can.”
As for the eyes, Edmundson said, “His eyes have looked like that for a week now. It’s kind of scary – but I don’t think it affected him tonight.”
Canadiens goaltender Carey Price agreed Petry is “scary-looking. But he’s obviously a big part of our team and played a big game for us tonight.”
He will need to play big games again Friday and Sunday back home in Montreal. Perhaps this time he can be the superhero, as opposed to the villain his children slay.
And then he can head once again for Vegas, with a clear-eyed vision of what has to be done if Montreal is to continue on.