“Seems like I’ve been here before/Seems so familiar/Seems like I’m slipping/Into a dream within a dream”
Yes, the above are lyrics from prog-rock laureate Maynard James Keenan’s fitting Tool track Sweat, but they also apply to the situation in which the Colorado Avalanche and Vegas Golden Knights have found themselves.
In fact, the verse has been living on repeat in my head since the conclusion of the massive blowout of Game 1 on Sunday. I know, what a fun way to live.
It seems like we’ve been here before, and while the circumstances aren’t exactly the same, tell me if you’ve heard this one before.
Hockey player on Team A—literally with an A on the chest of the sweater—lays a hard hit on a player on Team B, leaving the latter injured. Team B takes exception to the play, vowing retribution. Chaos unfolds at a later time, during what is a lopsided drubbing by Team A, and when the snowflakes settle on the ice the original player is left sprawled out and in pain as team trainers rush to ply their trade.
Now maybe things unfolded faster than the first time I watched this movie, and there weren’t bounties placed on the heads of opponents or chests puffed out as verbal sparring occurred in the Thunderdome-like arena of the media, but boy does this feel like a poor Hollywood remake of dark spot in Avalanche and NHL history.
If it seems so familiar, it’s because I’m talking about the time Avs forward Steve Moore obliterated Vancouver Canucks captain Markus Naslund with a questionable hit and Todd Bertuzzi ended Moore’s career with some of the most despicable thuggery the sport has seen.
But I’m also talking about what unfolded on Sunday when Avs rear guard Ryan Graves knocked Vegas forward Mattias Janmark out of the game and became the target of all the Golden Knights’ ire.
Now hockey has always had and likely always will have a bit of an ugly undercurrent of violence flowing through it. With the pace of play ever increasing and physicality occurring in the blink of an eye it is unlikely to change too much. Sure, fighting occurs less and you don’t always get the big, egregious hits anymore, but the skeleton, the frame of the sport hasn’t been altered too much.
This includes the aspect of players self-policing the game, which occurs regularly and is an important part of the sport, no matter how much people in the local media pretend not to understand what that really means. The “beat-them-on-the-scoreboard” adage that children are taught to prevent all out mayhem doesn’t apply. The players dictate what is tolerable and what isn’t in the confines of a match or series, and often the officials are along to try and keep things within the rules.
You saw it when Vegas, frustrated by a game that was quickly getting out of reach in any reality, began targeting Graves any chance they could. They felt that the original hit had been to Janmark’s head and therefore crossed the line. There would need to be blood.
Graves’ hit may have been a tad late, which resulted in the interference call against him, but it also occurred on the very edge of that razor blade of hockey timing where it appeared simultaneously clean or dirty to those who saw it. Either it seemed like a blatant head shot or contact that occurred from the chest upward.
Golden Knights captain Mark Stone saw it as the former, and commented as much after the match. His remarks paint a picture of how Vegas viewed things from that point onward. So they went after Graves numerous times.
And just like in the original movie staring characters like Joe Sakic, Paul Kariya, and Marc Crawford, a line was eventually crossed in this inferior carbon copy. This time it was Ryan Reaves, fresh off a real hockey play of cross-checking netminder Philipp Grubauer in the head, who decided to inflict pain.
Everyone watched him notice Graves, grab him, and pull him to the ice. What occurred after we may never truly know. There were reports that Graves had hair pulled out of his scalp. The cameras showed what looked like Reaves kneeling on Graves’ face or neck more than once, and all the while nobody could get the 6-foot-2, 225-pound forward off of his prey.
This scene could have ended the same way as the last one. Luckily Graves appears to be largely unharmed and Reaves was ejected and subsequently suspended by the NHL, albeit it for just long enough that he will no doubt be back for Game 4.
But it’s what happens next that will determine whether there’s going to be another sojourn into the darkness or not. You have to imagine that the league has already reached out and said enough.
It failed to do so earlier this season, which resulted in the New York Rangers, enraged by the lack of punishment for Public Enemy No. 1 Tom Wilson, throwing down against the Washington Capitals in a wondrous display of old-time hockey at the start of the next contest. It was despicable and appointment viewing at the same time, which completely highlights the odd duality of hockey being graceful and hideous all within the allotted 60+ minute timeframe.
Jared Bednar said all the right things in his press conferences, signaling that he didn’t like it but not inflaming already high tensions. Peter DeBoer defended Reaves to the best of his abilities without seeming ridiculous, but what else is he supposed to do? Gabriel Landeskog left it up to the NHL to handle, which it did. Now Vegas needs to get over it.
That’s the only way this potentially epic showdown of modern gladiators ranked Nos. 1 and 2 delivers what the hockey world wants to see. Fans want to watch the two best teams in the west play ice chess with the winner likely heading to the Stanley Cup Final.
There’s no room or further need for retaliation from either side. If Vegas needed to make a statement about the hit on Janmark, it was made. If the Avs wanted to make a point about controlling this series, the unrelenting offensive onslaught surely did that.
Now that the sideshow has been put aside, it’s time for some incredible hockey to unfold. It’s up to the players to prevent this from slipping into a dream within a dream.