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It found Saturday night was fine for Arizona-St. Louis fights. Monday evening too.
Coyotes and blues players dropped gloves in both games, which were against each other for the third and fourth time in a row. You’re going to play three more times in four days – that’s right, seven games in a row, like a playoff series that goes over the distance and a regular season for the NHL.
« If you play a team seven times in a row, it will happen, » said Coyotes striker Conor Garland. « You’ll have individual fights and then team fights. It’s hockey. It’s just like that. »
Especially this season when the NHL put together four new divisions and planned all regular season games in those divisions. This has set up mini-series for two to five games, with the NHL trying to restrict travel to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Seven Chapters of Coyotes Blues is an anomaly caused by planning changes forced by the pandemic.
The hostility is clearly felt in the league as players keep seeing the same familiar, aggravating faces. There have been 37 fights this season, and only two of the league’s 31 teams haven’t had at least one.
« There’s a bit of bad blood between games, » said Tampa Bay’s Anthony Cirelli after a 32-minute penalty game against Nashville. « The more we play against teams, the higher the emotions and it’s fun to play in them because it mimics this type of playoff hockey. »
It’s not a perfect comparison. As blues winger David Perron said, « There’s no trophy at stake » and Lord Stanley’s trophy is a long way off. The NHL is only a quarter of the way through a shortened 56-game regular season.
But the division plan also means that every game and every point earned or lost is more important. It’s head-to-head competition in the US eight-team divisions and the Canadian seven-team division for four playoff spots each, resulting in what Winnipeg striker Adam Lowry described as « a little more chippiness ».
« Just the battles, I think, get a little more intense, especially over time, » Lowry said. « If you can win a few games against the other team, the more desperate they are. »
The blues know what that feels like. They lost three of the top four to the Coyotes, including allowing a bond goal with 0.7 seconds of play time and hitting in a shootout in the final session.
When asked if he’s tired of facing the Coyotes, blues coach Craig Berube said, « I’m tired of losing to them. » The same goes for Vancouver, which has been swept in the last two series – two against Montreal and three against Toronto. Those games just got hotter.
« It’s competitive and intense, » said Canucks newcomer Adam Gaudette. « These important, competitive games are great fun to play. Every series means something. It will be like this all year round. »
Some title winners, Washington’s John Tortorella, Peter Laviolette Columbus, haven’t noticed their games are getting out of hand. Zach Kassian of Edmonton described it early on as an « emotional process » between division rivals and expects it to slowly build from now through May.
The Canadiens weren’t too pleased with Canucks defender Tyler Myers’ goal against Joel Armia last month, and Montreal manager Claude Julien added some grit to his line-up for the next game against Vancouver with Corey Perry. Garland mentioned a hit against teammate Nick Schmaltz that brought the support of the Coyotes players. And the next game in St. Louis-Vegas could include fireworks after the Golden Knights captain Mark Stone seriously injured Tyler Bozak.
« Shots that happened to Bozy or other such people can sometimes spread, » said Perron.
Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said he saw a procrastination from one game to the next against the same opponent, just like in a playoff series. The roller coaster ride also arouses emotions.
« A team is happy, a team is unhappy, » said Tocchet. « The team that is happy, can you stay in Kiel at the moment? And the team that is angry, will they do something about it? That is really the reason why the chippiness comes out. »
Nashville and Tampa Bay weren’t even in the same conference until this season, but that didn’t stop them from combining 60 penalty minutes in consecutive games. Arizona and St. Louis haven’t played much in the past few years either, but it’s fair to call it a rivalry, even if it’s temporary.
« It’s like everything, » said Garland. « You spend too long with someone, you get angry with them and you play someone seven times, you get angry with them too. »
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