LOS ANGELES • There’s an explanation for everything at this time of year. Get your iPhone out, ask Siri. She’ll tell you.
“It’s the playoffs.”
That covers a lot of things. It means products associated with the shaving industry will be slow movers, while ice packs will fly off the shelves. It means gamesmanship is in season, be it scheduling practices at inappropriate times or making your building more difficult to enter than the green zone in Baghdad.
If blood tests were conducted on the participants, they would show increased levels of preposterone, that is, a volatile combination of the testosterone hormone and preposterous behavior. There was ample evidence of this phenomena in Ottawa over the weekend.
But the thing that is truly about the playoffs is the parameters. This is a theater, a prolonged confrontation, not a skirmish. This is a fight to the death, or four wins, whichever comes first. Instant gratification sometimes yields to compound interest.
“Before Game 1,” Blues forward T. J. Oshie said, “Barret Jackman said, ‘Every hit that you make tonight could make the difference in Game 7.’ At first, I was like, ‘What are you talking about, Jacks?’ But then you think about it.
“I mean, you separate a guy from the puck and he gets a little dinged up and he gets a little more tired and maybe you push him out of the series. That’s one less guy you have coming at you, one guy you have sitting back and reacting instead of initiating.
“It’s the playoffs, that’s kind of what they’re all about.”
When it’s the playoffs, the teams get to know each other up close and personal. During the regular season, the relationship is more a passing fancy, a one-night stand. They bump into each other on a Saturday night. They have some laughs, exchange phone numbers and they agree to get together again real soon. Weeks go by.
In the playoffs, the players get together again on Monday, then on Wednesday, then on Friday. Blues defenseman Jay Bouwmeester is experiencing this closeness for the first time. He’s never spent so much quality time with an opponent before.
“Everything gets ramped up, the energy and the physical play,” Bouwmeester said. “Everything kind of translates and everything has an effect as you move down the road. You get those little confrontations that go on from game to game. Other than that it’s just hockey, right?”
Dr. Phil would call it “relationship-building.” And the bonds are especially intriguing where the Blues and Kings are concerned because it’s nostalgic. These teams hooked up together a year ago and, with only a handful of exceptions, their lineups are the same.
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet, for auld lang syne, eh?
“I want those guys to hate to see me,” Blues forward Ryan Reaves said. “I want them to hate to see me get on the ice, and know I’m coming and hear those footsteps. Sometimes it might make them second-guess whether to even come on the ice.”
The Blues and Kings have history. They know each others’ tendencies, strengths and weaknesses. Heck, they know each others’ skate sizes. They are big and physical, and not afraid to show it. They are two of a kind, peas in a pod. Wayne Gretzky had such a hard time telling the teams apart, he played for both.
“Both teams compete for the puck and compete on the puck so hard, that’s why there’s no room out there, there’s just no room,” Blues coach Ken Hitchcock said. “It’s not because both teams are committed to defense, both teams are committed to hard play.
“When your teams are built that way, it’s ice by the inch and you have to find a way to fight through it. Because if you’re looking for space in a series like this, you’re not going to find it.”
LA found the space last year, capturing its first Stanley Cup, running over the Blues to get there. The Blues are trying to create space this time and return the favor. It’s a very cozy, intimate environment. Players tend to pair off and affiliations become close-fitting.
For instance, Jonathan Quick and David Perron seem to have hit it off. You can tell because Perron spends so much time around Quick, or draped over him, or in his face. Quick seems to really enjoy this. He talks to Perron, goes out of his way to meet and greet him, constantly offers an encouraging tap with his stick or glove.
Great to see that kind of sportsmanship, isn’t it?
Moreover, DP57 seems to have become a favorite with a number of the Kings. Some of them go out of their way for an introduction.
“Quick is always outside of his crease and I’m driving the net,” Perron said. “As I turn around, he’s right there and I kind of bump into him a little bit or get pushed into him. Then (Drew Doughty) is on me. … That’s my job. I’ve got to keep drawing penalties.”
How about that? They even draw together.
Perhaps you’ve noticed how much David Backes likes Anze Kopitar. They’re attached at the hip-check. When he sees Kopitar out and about, Backes can’t help himself, he has to run to see him. He loves to poke fun and take some jabs at Kopitar, anytime they crosscheck paths. What a kidder!
The Kings’ Dustin Brown looks up to Backes. He spends time in his kitchen, feeds him his own medicine, slaps him a high stick every opportunity. Jeff Carter must feel that way about Jackman. He gave the Blues defenseman something to remember him by in Game 3 and Jackman was visibly touched. You could see him choked with emotion, or was that his Adam’s apple?
All of the Kings enjoy spending time with the Blues’ puck-moving defensemen, guys like Bouwmeester, Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk. They ring them up every time they’re in the neighborhood.
The coaches even get into the act. Kings coach Darryl Sutter showed concern about Hitchcock overextending himself in the interview room after Game 1. Thoughtful of him.
They say imitation is the purest form of flattery, and Hitchcock likes to flatter Sutter and his endearing news-conference decorum. “Hurry up, folks,” Hitchcock started his own conference last Thursday, tongue in cheek. “I gotta car I got to drive home in.”
What kooks, the both of them.
Hitchcock enjoys the relationship so much, he hopes it never goes sour. “I understand Mr. Sutter is thinking that it’s going to be Montreal-Ottawa here,” said Hitchcock, referring to the brawl-for-all going on in the Eastern Conference series. “(It would be) him and I left on the bench … I don’t like my chances.”
So much love.
As the series moves back to St. Louis, let’s reflect on what Dwight K. Schrute once said: “The bonds we create … are the most important and lasting. Savor them; they’re sacred.”
And let’s appreciate the fact that these teams get along so well. After all, it’s the playoffs.