Daniel Sedin’s penalty cruel and unusual punishment
Still, the twins’ NHL game has waned since the return of the rodeo
Henrik Sedin, Ryan Kesler and Daniel Sedin (left to right) of the Vancouver Canucks talk during a break in Game 4 of the Canucks-San Jose Sharks NHL Western Conference quarter-final series at HP Pavilion in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday, May 7, 2013.
Photograph by: Christian Petersen, Getty Images
ANAHEIM, Calif. — Out in the hallway, where the Vancouver Canucks brought Henrik Sedin to be interviewed because the tiny visitors’ locker room at HP Pavilion couldn’t have handled the crush, reporters crowded around the captain and ... how to put this? He said a bad word.
It rhymed with woolspit.
Coming from this thoroughly decent gentleman, it was as out of character as ... well, as his brother Daniel earning a post-game, game misconduct penalty for abusive language, for telling referee Kelly Sutherland what he thought of the boarding penalty in overtime that cost the Canucks a 4-3, season-ending decision Tuesday night at the hands of the San Jose Sharks.
No matter how you feel about the Canucks, the idea that their season, and almost inarguably their era of excellence, should end on an undeserved penalty to one of the most decent human beings in the game is damned poor symbolism.
In the hall, Henrik stood up for Daniel, just as Danny would have done for Hank had the roles been reversed. Hardly surprising, considering that these magnificent twins are so joined at the hip that each took exactly the same 905 games — staggered, because Henrik has been an iron man and Daniel has had a broken leg and a concussion — to surpass the points total of the Canucks’ previous franchise scoring leader, Markus Naslund.
And the call WAS terrible. Shoulder to shoulder as they chased the puck, Daniel was just stronger on his skates, and Sharks’ Tommy Wingels veered off-balance and fell badly into the boards.
Wednesday morning, when he woke up in his hotel room, Sutherland would no doubt be seeing the highlights on TV and thinking: “Man, I blew that one.” He’d probably be hearing from the league, too, and if there is any conscience in the NHL offices, sitting out the rest of the playoffs.
Conspiracy theorists will suggest that Sutherland had it in for the Canucks because of coach Alain Vigneault’s comments about his work after a Vigneault bench minor — again, for abusive language — cost his team a game earlier this season. The head coach swore (not literally) that all he had said was “That’s an elbow!” and Sutherland assessed the penalty. A livid Vigneault railed post-game that referees ought to be held accountable for their screwups, the same way players and coaches are. That wouldn’t have gone over well.
Still, the idea of a vendetta on this scale is probably a stretch. Not that referees haven’t made the Canucks pay for their past sins — flopping, head-snapping, chirping; parts of their game that the chief offenders of yore, Alex Burrows and Ryan Kesler and Max Lapierre have worked hard to leave behind, some harder than others. The zebras have long memories, and as terrific a player as Burrows is, officials may never cut him a break if he plays until he’s 40.
But that it happened to one of the twins was cruel and unusual punishment.
They are not quite choirboys, but the NHL may have no more honest players. They have been mocked for their red-headed, fringe-bearded, buzz-cut sameness, derided as soft, called “sisters” for their refusal to fight — and have just kept plugging away.
Even when the law let them down, as in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, when Boston’s Brad Marchand speed-bagged Daniel’s head five or six times while a referee — Kelly Sutherland; how’s that for coincidence? — stood by and watched it happen, the twins stayed classy.
They knew, they have always known, that in some ways they would forever be judged just a little more harshly because of being non-violent people in a violent game.
“The referees are doing a good job,” Daniel said, after that 2011 final debacle, when the Bruins simply pushed the Canucks out of the game.
“They’re going to call what they see. We play hard whistle to whistle and whatever happens, happens. Like I’ve said before, if we start fighting back and throwing punches, that’s when [they say] we’re frustrated.
“So for us, it’s a lose-lose situation. We’re either too soft or we’re frustrated. That’s the way it is.”
The key to their success in those days, the key to their failure in that final and in these playoffs, is that the Canucks’ power play can no longer make the opposition pay for taking physical liberties.
“I’ve always said if teams want to play you like that, we always scored on the power play, which made them stop,” Daniel said. “So it was up to us to make them pay, and we couldn’t do that.”
If it was true in June of 2011, it’s doubly true in May of 2013.
Their cycling, telepathic game was never better than in that window of opportunity following the 2004-05 lockout when, for a few years, the NHL decided referees would be mandated to call the rules as written. What a concept.
That window, like that of the Sedins and the Canucks, is now closed. It is no coincidence, that when the interference standard was relaxed and the rodeo returned, the twins’ effectiveness waned.
For a short time, a two-headed show of guile and sleight-of-hand the likes of which hockey had never seen before from a pair of twins was made possible by a rare period of clarity — forced clarity, of course, when the league was hoping to win back its fans after losing an entire season to greed.
A lot of factors — poor trades and drafts leading to a lack of a supporting cast, advancing age, injuries to forwards that ate up a disproportionate share of the season — contributed to the fading of that act. But the NHL has its share of the responsibility, too.
Like the absurd ending of Game 4 on Tuesday night, it’s not something of which the league should be terribly proud.
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