Monday night was epic in Raleigh, NC as the Carolina Hurricanes hosted the Washington Capitals in what was their first home playoff game in a decade. A capacity crowd was loud and all-in to help their team battle back from being down 2-0 in the series to the defending Stanley Cup champion.
In the first period, Andrei Svechnikov and Alex Ovechkin dropped the gloves. What ensued was not pretty, as Ovechkin pounded Svechnikov, whose head bounced off the ice as he went down apparently unconscious from a big Ovechkin roundhouse punch.
Svechnikov had to be helped off the ice and did not return to the game. Tuesday morning the Hurricanes coach Rod Brind’Amour said that “Svech” is in the concussion protocol and is not likely to play in Thursday night’s upcoming game with the Caps.
Emotions and Svechnikov vs Ovechkin
Emotions were at a fever pitch in Raleigh’s PNC Arena. It’s part of the allure of playoff hockey. The fans are in it from the opening puck drop to the very end. Also, the players are wound up emotionally, knowing what is at stake with every mistake.
There is nothing in all of the sports universe to match the emotional intensity of the NHL playoffs. It is this intensity from the players that feed the fans which in turn feeds the players and on and on. Every irritant from an opposing player can be magnified in this type of environment.
Svechnikov Provoked, or Lost His Cool?
In nearly all of the post-fight analysis, there seems to be some agreement that Ovechkin had been “needling” Svechnikov all series long. At 19 years old, Svechnikov was running wide open emotionally. Up to that point, he was the leading scorer for the Hurricanes in the playoffs and was matched repeatedly with the veteran Ovechkin.
“Ovi” knows how to get under the skin of his opponents. Some call him a dirty player, others call him experienced. Svechnikov found himself on the receiving end of stick checks and other irritants that finally boiled over. But, others say that it was Svechnikov doing the irritating and instigating of the fight. Again, playoff hockey adrenaline is like no other and maybe the testosterone is, too.
In hindsight, there is nothing noble what he did. He got pulverized and now may be out for the rest of the series. Ask Jeff Skinner about concussions early in your career. Hopefully, Svechnikov has learned that walking away is a better alternative than posting up with someone like Ovechkin.
There are Two Sides to Every Fight
Brind’Amour said after the game, “It’s a little bit tough because I just heard Ovi talk about it; he said our guy challenged him. So, if that’s the case, it’s a little different. If you watch the video, he slashes him twice — Ovi, whack, whack — then Svech gets him back. I don’t know if there’s words exchanged, but one guy’s gloves come off way first. And that’s Ovi, not our guy.”
Ovechkin blamed Svechnikov and Brind’Amour saw it differently. At the end of the day does it really matter? It’s fodder on both sides for social media, but the teams have moved on. Everyone hopes that Svechnikov will be okay, but they are not dwelling on it…they can’t.
The Hurricanes have another game Thursday night in which they have to summon the same level of emotion to try and pull even in the series. The Capitals have to act like they care about Game 4 and make it competitive.
Hurricanes Need to Get Tougher
One question that came out of Monday night’s Svechnikov vs Ovechkin bout was “Do the Hurricanes need an enforcer type of player?” The NHL has moved a long way away from the days of goons and enforcers, but are the ‘Canes vulnerable to incidents like what happened with Svechnikov? Who was there on the team to step up for him if they decided to retaliate against Ovechkin?
The answer is nobody. Micheal Ferland has been the team’s most involved fighter this season, but he has a lingering upper-body injury issue that caused him to have to leave Monday night’s game about the same time Svechnikov had to leave and not return.
The Hurricanes are largely a young team. Does general manager Don Waddell need to spend time this offseason looking for a veteran player who can square off with guys like Ovechkin when necessary? (Ovechkin had not been in a fight in years so he is not necessarily a target for teams. Tom Wilson on the other hand…)
In retrospect, Svechnikov should have left his gloves on and not challenged Ovechkin – or accepted his challenge if that were the case. A 19-year-old who’s never fought should not square off against Ovechkin. The fight did not give the ‘Canes fresh momentum or energy as they had an abundance of that all game.
Brind’Amour said Tuesday he saw Svechnikov and that he looks good. Perhaps he dodged a bullet and won’t suffer long-term consequences from a concussion. Svechnikov has probably the brightest future of anyone on the Hurricanes’ roster, with the possible exception of Aho. He needs to be smart and understand that fighting is not where he is going to make his mark in the NHL.
Mark lives in the Raleigh, NC area and covers the Carolina Hurricanes.