‘Win at all costs’ style evident in first round

Ryan Getzlaf is day-to-day with an upper-body injury. (Tony Gutierrez/AP)
April 24, 2014, 1:44 PM

Bruce Boudreau stood behind the post-game podium after Game 3 of the Anaheim-Dallas series, during which the Stars had callously shown no sympathy for the injured jaw of Ducks captain Ryan Getzlaf.

The Stars (cover your ears, kids) had clearly instigated facial contact with Anaheim’s best player and captain, and a Stars player, Antoine Roussel, was witnessed actually swinging back when Getzlaf snapped and started punching him in the face. Imagine — in a hockey game, no less. Egads.

“Our team wouldn’t do that” was the thrust of Ducks coach Boudreau’s message when asked if he thought it right that Dallas had the temerity not to let Getzlaf’s injury heal.

Yeah, sure, Bruce. And Anaheim would’ve shown up with a jar of aloe vera and hot tea had, say, Jamie Benn brought a visible injury into a crucial playoff game.

We like Boudreau a lot. He’s honest, loves to talk, and he’s lived the game. This guy is as legit a hockey man as you’ll find — which is why he should know that sanctimony and the Stanley Cup Playoffs should never mix. The “we’re above those tactics” stance has come back to haunt every organization that ever spouted it, particularly one in Anaheim that won its only Cup on the back of perhaps the dirtiest defenceman of his generation, Chris Pronger. (And we loved his game.)

To think Anaheim — or any team in a playoff game — would respect an injury of their opponent’s top player so he may stay in the game, score goals and make plays against them is just wrong on every level. That concession has been institutionalized in hockey, in “official” injury reports rated somewhere on the scale of “vague” to “outright lie.”

Getzlaf is currently listed to have an “upper body injury.” So the Stars could argue, “How are we supposed to know where his injury is?” He missed Game 4, which under hockey’s crude code justifies whatever Dallas did in Game 3 — because in the playoffs, the only line in the code book is, “Win at all costs.”

That’s why Getzlaf was out there with a potentially broken jaw in the first place, stricken flush by that Tyler Seguin slapshot late in Game 2.

Winning is also why Brent Seabrook took a suspension against St. Louis Blues captain David Backes, why Pittsburgh’s Brooks Orpik hit Chicago captain Jonathan Toews with particular zeal near the end of the regular season, and probably why Matt Cooke appeared bent on finishing his late and dirty check on Colorado’s best puck-moving defenceman, Tyson Barrie.

On a micro level, it is and always has been ingrained in hockey players for a third-pairing defenceman to try to incite a first-line forward into taking coincidental minors. We call it “a good trade off” for the defenceman’s team.

On a macro level, it’s Duncan Keith’s vicious elbow on Daniel Sedin in 2012. It’s Vancouver’s Aaron Rome taking that late run at Boston’s Nathan Horton in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final, which ended the series for both players. Never let their star player off the hook — whether you’re a No. 1 like Keith or a depth guy like Rome.

Since peewee hockey — or whenever it is that they begin to body-check in your province or state — it is ingrained in hockey players to “take the shot” when the one of the opponent’s best players leaves himself vulnerable. Clearly, we don’t mean illegally. We mean hard but clean.

You might pass up the shot on the fourth-liner in favour of the puck. You can’t hit the goalie. But you never pass up a hit on their best player — hard but clean — if he leaves himself open for a legal body-check. Especially in a playoff series.

That tenet of the game has enticed many players over the line over the years, which is why the vast majority of suspendable offences are carried out against star players. Yes, they have the puck more often, but the aforementioned Pavlovian response is a factor as well. Mike Richards on David Booth; Matt Cooke on Marc Savard; Keith on Sedin; Seabrook on Backes; Raffi Torres on Milan Michalek, Jordan Eberle and Marian Hossa, among others; Scott Stevens on Eric Lindros and Paul Kariya.

Now, throw a visible weak spot into the mix, like Getzlaf’s face shield, and all bets are off come playoff time.

Hockey players sacrifice themselves to win more consistently than athletes in any other sport. They play hurt more frequently than any National Football League player because of schedule length alone, and there really is no comparison to shot-blocking in any other sport.

So we agree: They’ll do anything to win. That includes taking a penalty, or sometimes a suspension, for the team.

You may not agree with the tactic, and you may not like it. But it’s part of hockey, a game many of us love for — in part — its physical nature.

And if you don’t like it?

Well, as Bryan Marchment once instructed those players who complained about his style, “Go play tennis.”

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