NEW YORK | Pop culture is full of the question, “Where is the love?” But Monday the question posed to the New York Rangers and Washington Capitals was more along the lines of “Where is the hate?”
The Rangers and Caps endured chippier series in the first round against the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins, respectively. Those involved suspensions, ejections and post-whistle altercations.
“I think all series takes on a life of its own. This is, to me, probably been even a harder series in the play than the Ottawa series,” Rangers coach John Tortorella said. “You get the crap that went on after Game 2 with I forget the player’s name suckering our guy, and all that stuff ends up being part of it, and you guys think it changed the series. It just takes on a life of its own. This has been a straight-ahead hard series, and in most facets of it, harder than the Ottawa series.”
Asked before the series began about hating the Rangers, Matt Hendricks said that “hate’s a strong word,” even after these Caps faced them in playoff series in two of the past three years. He reiterated that Monday.
“Since I’ve been here there’s a little bit of dislike. We both play the same type of hockey. And when games are close and tight like that you find those scrappy games,” Hendricks said. “I think for the most part things have been clean because both teams know what’s at stake here. You can’t afford to take a bad penalty, take a suspension, do anything like that that’s going to hurt your team and hurt the outcome.”
Hatred, stemming from dirty hits or rivalries, isn’t always an ingredient in a hard-fought series.
“I don’t think you need it. I think that the right level of it can help you maybe play a little bit better or help maybe get the other team off their game a little bit. But I don’t think it’s something that’s necessary,” defenseman Karl Alzner said. “I think that just the fact that both teams are vying for the same thing is enough to create the hate that you need to get you as into it as the guys are.”
Alzner said it looked like the Pittsburgh Penguins struggled to concentrate on hockey in their first-round series agains the Philadelphia Flyers.
“You look at a couple other series and it seems like guys get caught up in that we’ve got to beat the crap out of you and then return the favor,” defenseman Jeff Schultz said. “It’s more along the lines of just going out and playing and playing physical. Stuff like that just happens in the game and you just kind of go about it as is and not try and magnify it too much, because you get caught up in that and everybody’s worried about that instead of playing.”
But just because there haven’t been fisticuffs shouldn’t take away from Caps and Rangers, players said.
“I mean, there’s a lot of hits. It’s a physical series. Maybe because there hasn’t been a fight, people may say that it’s not intense, but there’s not a lot of space out there,” forward Brooks Laich said. “There’s little battles in the faceoffs and there’s special teams battles. There’s a lot of aspects that the intensity comes into play in the series that’s maybe not as magnified as a fight may be.”