The final battle for hockey’s holy grail is about to commence. Although the competition will be fierce and the intensity will increase to a new level, don’t expect to see any fighting in the concluding clash for the Stanley Cup.
Since the 2004-05 lockout, there have been only three fights in the deciding matchup for hockey’s ultimate prize.
These days, players are critically aware that there is so much at stake and that getting into a tilt, particularly if you incur the instigator penalty, will put your team at a disadvantage.
The nature of hockey, however, lends itself to flare ups. Even with Lord Stanley’s mug on the line, tempers boil over and players may look to their fists to settle a score or send a message.
Prior to the salary cap era, fighting in the Stanley Cup Final was still rare, but it had its place from time to time. There is perhaps no better illustration of this in recent memory than when Jarome Iginla and Vincent Lecavalier dropped the gloves in 2004. To be sure, the tenor of that series had already been set by two separate fights in the second game, but those dust ups were the handiwork of both teams’ noted pugilists.
When Iginla and Lecavalier collided six minutes into the third game, it signalled something more significant. This was a rare bout between two stars. Moreover, while Iginla had already established his reputation as a formidable player who could use his hands to be both score and fight, this was uncharted territory for Lecavalier. Nevertheless, the Lightning forward held his own in a spirited battle against a fearsome opponent, something that his teammates certainly homed in on.
Following the game, Tampa Bay’s captain, Dave Andreychuk noted that, “Vinny has taken charge in a lot of games for us, and he’s made the players around him better. That’s what he did tonight.” Although the Lightning lost that contest, Lecavalier’s heroics galvanized the team for the remainder of the series. Calgary and Tampa Bay would go on to play a hard-fought seven games, with the Bolts securing their first championship in franchise history.
When the quest for the Stanley Cup resumed in 2006, the tone set by Iginla and Lecavalier failed to carry over. The next three Finals were relatively quiet by comparison, until the Red Wings and Penguins squared off in a rematch in 2009. Detroit had vanquished Pittsburgh in their previous encounter, and now the Penguins were eager to exact their pound of flesh. In just the second game of the series, the Red Wings were up by a pair of goals in the final seconds of the third period. After Evgeni Malkin wired a desperate shot on Chris Osgood, Max Talbot followed up by driving his stick into the goaltender’s chest, knocking him over.
As tension began mounting around the net, Malkin zeroed in on Henrik Zetterberg and pulled him from the scrum. As the two began trading shots, the Penguins fan base collectively held its breathe. Although Malkin never shied away from confrontation, he wasn’t exactly known for his fighting prowess. More importantly, he was the team’s leading scorer, a trend that likely wouldn’t continue if he injured himself in an altercation. Although Malkin skated away from the exchange unscathed, he prudently opted not to add to his fight card for the remainder of the postseason. Instead, he racked up six more points in the final games, leading Pittsburgh to the Stanley Cup and taking home the Conn Smythe.
Two years later, in a rough Stanley Cup Final that even included biting as part of the extracurricular activities, only Ryan Kesler and Dennis Seidenberg officially dropped the gloves. With Boston holding a comfortable four goal lead in the fourth contest, they were just nine minutes away from closing out the victory and evening the series.
Perhaps, in an attempt to ignite his team, Kesler discarded his mitts and helmet and prepared to engage Seidenberg. The two had been jawing and shoving at each other all night when things finally came to a head. As the two began to grapple, Kesler threw a big right hand but only managed to graze the top of his opponent’s head. The pair fell to the ice where the melee was quickly broken up by officials. Kesler’s actions failed to activate his team and Boston went on to secure the shutout. A week later, the Bruins captured their first Stanley Cup in nearly four decades.
When Boston returned to the Stanley Cup Final in 2013, it seemed inevitable that one of their players would double as a combatant. Sure enough, in the dying seconds of the third contest, with the game well out of reach for the Blackhawks, Andrew Shaw and Brad Marchand got into a skirmish. Both players were ejected and received fighting majors, but this was more of a wrestling match than a donnybrook. Although Shaw landed a solid punch after the two collapsed to the ice, it was hardly lived up to its billing.
Since then, there hasn’t been a brawl in the Stanley Cup Final. Although we’re unlikely to see a fight break out between the Penguins and Predators, we will see a battle.
It will undoubtedly be a hard-fought series that will change the place of either franchise on the hockey landscape. Pittsburgh could be the first team to win back-to-back championships in nearly two decades, only further cementing the legacies of its core players. Meanwhile, Nashville has the chance to win its first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Only time will tell which team rises up and enshrines itself into hockey lore.