The Dallas Stars have, for a long time now, been known as a team that can find ways to really get under the skin of teams they're facing. Whether that was Pat Verbeek, Richard Matvichuk and Derian Hatcher or Steve Ott and Adam Burish, the Stars always seemed to have some players that loved the physical and mental side of the game just as much as the skill needed for success.
This season the Stars have taken this approach to a whole new level; Dallas now has a host of players that love to stir up trouble but mostly they let their talking happen between the whistles and then only react when the opposition gets frustrated and initiates some retaliation. The Stars have also proven they will no longer let players have free reign on goaltender Kari Lehtonen and in the middle of all this -- usually it's Antoine Roussel who is most involved.
At issue from Monday night, out of all of the various scrums and penalties, is an incident between Ryan Getzlaf and Roussel in which the Ducks and their coach all felt very adamantly that Roussel had no business getting getting into an altercation with the team captain.
Here's the crux of the issue, which doesn't we must note does not Roussel breaking free from an official and throwing a punch while Getzlaf was being "held back" by the linesman. Which is probably what earned the extra penalty.
Edit: So, I've watched the full replay again and Roussel definitely threw in a bit of a "poke" at the guard on Getzlaf's mask, which sent the Ducks captain into absolute hysterics. So...I could see how that might have started things. But Getzlaf started throwing punches and got them right back.
The Ducks feel that the Stars had been "targeting" Getzlaf's face for most of the game and it's apparent he had just about had enough at this point.
All of this set off a very interesting series of exchanges with the media post-game.
"Well, I mean I think it was pretty obvious out there," said Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau. "We've warned the refs about them anyway. It's just something that I guess you do anything to win, but it's not something that I think our team would do. We'll take them and be as physical and be as mean as they want, but obviously they know there's something wrong with his jaw, so they're going after it."
Getzlaf himself reiterated he didn't think it was classy for a team to be targeting his injured jaw.
"Well, it's one of those things, you've got to stay as disciplined as you can but you've got to protect yourself too," said Getzlaf. "That's part of the game. Obviously, I never expected them to target my face that much, but that's the way it goes I guess."
"Well it was class," Getzlaf continued.. "You can play hard and do all the things you want, but me personally, if a guy's got a bad jaw, I'm not going to hit him in the jaw but everybody's different."
So, let's clear a few things up here.
Getzlaf and Perry initiated contact around the net all game long -- they know this should draw the ire of the Stars, especially with their newfound violent and speedy approach to hockey and renewed vigor in protecting their goalie when called upon. So when the Stars actually do stick up for themselves and then just move on, it's apparently an issue with class.
Roussel is certainly a player that walks a very fine line and sometimes he may cross said line when tempers flare, but it's pretty obvious that Getzlaf initiated the entire thing and I don't know what he can expect when he crashes the net the way he was. While he may not be happy that he thought the Stars were "targeting" his jaw and that apparently goes against some sort of "code," he can't expect to initiate physical contact around the net and then get upset when it's dished back in his direction.
If you're willing to put on a mask like that one, and head out to play NHL hockey -- you have to be ready for anything to happen and it doesn't seem Getzlaf's jaw is being specifically targeted anymore than any other "I'm shoving my gloves in your face and we both have gloves in our faces and now we're shoving" type of scrums that happen in almost every single game in the NHL and especially in the playoffs.
The best part of this is that while the Ducks were lamenting their loss when they felt they were the better team and then making it very clear that they just aren't too happy with the Stars' antics in the game, the players on the Dallas side of the locker refused to even acknowledge there was an issue at hand and get into a back and forth.
"We tried to play hard, we tried to play the man," said Lindy Ruff, after deflecting a question a bit about how Boudreau felt about the physical play. "There were a few scrums and I'm sure if you watch them, our guys got punched in the face a few time in those scrums. When you're getting punched in the face eventually you're going to punch back. Playoff hockey is emotional. We've got a good skating team and we can frustrate and part of being physical is you have to get there. I thought there were times they were strong down low on us. I don't think either team crossed the line I just thought it was playoff hockey."
That's the key phrase here. Boudreau's teams have historically withered and rolled over in the postseason and when the two teams are doing nothing but amping up the intensity in a hard fought playoff game -- he's making it a point to "warn the officials" about the Stars, and coming across like a coach that doesn't understand postseason intensity.
Perhaps it was different on the East coast.
For his part, Antoine Roussel took the high road when asked about Getzlaf's response and how he felt that the Ducks captain actually started to throw the gloves around.
"Yeah a little bit," Roussel said, when asked if he was surprised by the response. "He's a character guy. He's such a great player and he gets some aggressiveness, some character that he has. He kinds of stands up for himself when it's time, too. I was surprised and not surprised at the same time."
Reading into a player's mannerisms when answering a question from the media is always a rough idea, but it was clear that Roussel was actually conveying some real respect for Getzlaf and what he brings to the game and relishes the battle they're in the middle of.
Roussel took the high road. Ducks winger Pat Maroon, kicked from the game with a misconduct late in regulation, most decidedly did not -- essentially saying that Anaheim will now be targeting the top players for the Stars.
"They're going to get in our best player's face, I guess Wednesday night we're going to have to do the same thing," said Maroon. "We're going to have to show that intensity. We can't let that happen to our star players. They'll get it."
Bring it on.