There were two equally riveting story lines bumping up against each other Monday, the off-day before Game 4 of the Vancouver Canucks-Chicago Blackhawks series, but linked in a roundabout way.
One featured Raffi Torres, the new bad boy in town, the result of his behind-the-net hit on Brent Seabrook of the Blackhawks, which briefly staggered the defenceman and sent him to the quiet room, as per the NHL's new concussion protocols.
Despicable blindside hit? Or perfectly legitimate play, given how NHL general managers supposedly determined the area behind the net is a hitting zone and therefore players have more latitude to run each other down there?
Perspective is naturally everything.
Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville figured it was the worst thing in the world; his Canucks counterpart, Alain Vigneault, didn't even think it warranted a minor penalty. If ever there was an illustration of how dividing and confusing this issue is, this was it.
The NHL sided with the Canucks on this one - having decided Monday no further discipline will be assessed - meaning Torres will be available Tuesday for what will surely be a spirited match. There were the usual veiled hints of retribution, but Seabrook himself thought that would be pointless - the only way of exacting any revenge would be to get back in the best-of-seven series the 'Hawks are trailing 3-0 and make a fight of it.
Lost in the Torres controversy was that the Canucks have their perennial nemesis squarely on the ropes and can take them out with a victory Tuesday. In each of the past two seasons, Chicago prevailed over Vancouver - but the defending Stanley Cup champions look like a pale, worn facsimile of their former selves, while the Canucks look strong, having nicely carried over their Presidents' Trophy momentum into the opening round.
Torres, of course, was nowhere to be seen Monday, just as the Canucks forward was nowhere to be seen Sunday night, after the controversial hit. He had talked Sunday morning and, at that point, had vowed to stay out of the penalty box and learn to play within the context of the new rules. (Still learning, one would suppose.)
Canucks captain Henrik Sedin did speak and ruled it a clean hit, saying: "Of course, they're going to say stuff to the media to get a suspension, but the league had a good look at it and I think they saw what a lot of guys on the ice saw. It was one of those things. Players too have to be accountable to know where guys are on the ice. [The possibility of retribution]is nothing we really think about."
While the Canucks were squarely behind Torres, the Blackhawks were singing a far different tune.
Seabrook, as old-school a player as there is in the game, was unhappy with the NHL's decision to give Torres a pass, because he felt his head was targeted when he didn't have the puck. Seabrook said he would have been "fair game" if the collision came a split-second later and he had been able to reel the puck in.
As it was, he feels he was in a vulnerable position and Torres took advantage. If that isn't the spirit behind the NHL's new head shot rule, then what is?
"They're trying to change the game and they're trying to take head hits out of the game and you gotta make the same suspension, the same judgment, whether he's lying there, taken off on a stretcher or playing the next shift," said Seabrook, who did play the next shift, and was smashed into the boards by Torres.
Under the NHL's new in-game protocols for concussion diagnosis, Seabrook was then obliged to go a quiet room and be examined for symptoms. He later returned to finish the game and suggested he would be ready to play Tuesday.
Asked if he considered going to the dressing room after the first hit for Torres, Seabrook said: "No."
Because he felt okay?
"Because I want to play," he said. "It's the playoffs. We're all playing through injuries, bumps and bruises. It's one of those things, I want to win. I got a taste of it last year, winning a Stanley Cup. I want to get back there."
So did the Blackhawks staff force him to go for a checkup after the second hit?
"Um … yeah. Yeah."
If you saw Seabrook's body language as he answered, you would also understand why it will continue to be a long, uphill battle for NHL teams to get players to provide frank, honest assessments of their own health under these circumstances, when the stakes are so high.
In the same vein, Seabrook said the Blackhawks cannot let Torres become a distraction, not with their season (and Stanley Cup defence) on the line.
"That can't be our focus right now," he said. "Our focus is to win the game and then take it back to Vancouver and try to win the series. That's the best way we can get back at him."Report Typo/Error