NASHVILLE — Come on, it’s OK to admit: If Pepsi Center got as loud as Bridgestone Arena and Avs defenseman Ryan Johansen took a cheap shot on the Preds, the state of Colorado would join up and buy him an ice-cold 90 Shilling.
Let’s leave the hypocrisy for Minnesota Wild fans and the suits in the NHL offices.
“Obviously if those are the hits you’re allowed to take, maybe you take one or two runs at guys that you might get away with,” Avalanche defenseman Tyson Barrie said Friday, getting real on the cheap shot to the head he endured from Johansen in Smashville’s Game 1 victory.
The Avs are ticked. Now what are they going to do about it?
Despite a 5-2 final that poorly represents how the Avalanche performed, Colorado proved a few points in Game 1. The Avs showed they have the talent to skate with the Stanley Cup favorites. They built leads of 1-0, 2-1 and lamented scoring chances to extend their lead and really make the locals nervous. But when Johansen leveled Barrie with the kind of nasty check that can cause lasting brain damage, it felt like big brother finally had enough of the bickering in the backseat and chose instead to send a message to the pesky underdogs: know your role in this postseason.
There will be no punishment for Johansen, who’s got 4 inches and 30 pounds on Barrie. Not from the league office, at least, and the Avalanche dressing room the day after was none too pleased with the NHL's decision.
“I think it was a little bit late,” forward Mikko Rantanen said of the check.
“The league looked at it and decided it’s not something they want to pursue,” Avs coach Jared Bednar said and left the controversy at that.
The NHL has made a big ol’ deal about the dangers of head injuries. Then it ignores a blatant elbow to Barrie’s dome without repercussion. If the league decides it’s A-OK to unload on defenseless players, that sounds like a green light for Gabriel Landeskog or Nikita Zadorov to take justice into his own hands. The Avalanche showed they can play with the Predators.
Are the Avs willing and able to stand up for one of the most important and popular guys in the dressing room?
“I was shooting and I didn’t see him coming at all. He kind of came from the side. He definitely caught my head,” Barrie said. “I’m not sure if they determined he hit my shoulder or whatever it was first. It’s part of the game. That’s in the league’s hands, so it’s kind of out of your control.”
Context is necessary. What peeved the Avalanche is not that Johansen escaped punishment. On a deep and gifted Predators roster, one man's contributions are kind of whatever. What got their jock straps in a bunch is that Kings defenseman Drew Doughty caught a suspension for a similar head shot on William Carrier of the Golden Knights. That was Wednesday. Barrie’s was Thursday. Both were nasty. Johansen's was worse.
"I don't see a whole lot of difference," Barrie said.
If anyone should be ticked off at the league’s inconsistency, it’s the Los Angeles Kings.
But at the risk of poking soccer fans, there’s one big difference in the two exchanges: Carrier stayed down on the ice and sold the hit, while Barrie shook the cobwebs free and skated straight to the Avalanche bench.
ESPN makes some bizarre decisions these days, but the network nailed it by labeling the Predators the No. 1 franchise in pro sports. There's a buzz on Music Row that's reminiscent of an expansion team. Game 1 attendees were met with a “Preds Playoff Survival Kit,” complete with earplugs and Advil. Who knew the latter was intended for the visiting team? Poor Tyson Barrie, by the way. In his last trip to the playoffs, four years ago, it was Minnesota hooligan Matt Cooke who knocked Barrie from the series with a cheap shot. That was in Game 3. The Wild won in seven.
They can't question the Avs' talent level and ability. But in Game 1 the Predators questioned Colorado's manhood. What will the Avs do about it?