NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- When it happened, it was shocking for how uncharacteristic it was.
Nashville defenseman Ryan Suter, among the most skilled and disciplined players on his team – with only 54 penalty minutes all season -- committed an egregious penalty that helped cost his team the game.
At 6:21 of the third period, Suter, in full view of the officials, grabbed Vancouver's Ryan Kesler by the head and shoulders and threw him to the ice. Suter earned a holding call and Kesler scored a brilliant goal on the ensuing power play that broke a 2-2 tie as the Canucks beat the Predators 4-2 in Game 4 of their Western Conference Semifinal series.
Only about 15 months ago, Suter and Kesler were among the "Ryans" – along with Anaheim's Bobby Ryan and Buffalo's Ryan Miller – who competed so hard alongside each other in the 2010 Vancouver Olympics for the United States, which lost in overtime to Canada in a memorable gold medal game.
But these are the Stanley Cup Playoffs and the words and the elbows are sharp and tempers flare without Olympian levels of sportsmanship.
"He hit (Predators center Mike Fisher) right in the face with his stick," Suter said, "and I was just grabbing him to slow him down pretty easy, but it's over with."
Kesler plays a gritty, irritating style and he seems to have gotten under the skin of the Nashville players. Perhaps it's no surprise that Suter is among them. He played a game-high 28:26 of time on ice and leads all NHL players in the playoffs in average ice time at 29:27. That means he is seeing plenty of Kesler, who played 23:40 on Thursday and leads all forwards in the playoffs in average ice time.
"He's no innocent guy out there," Suter said. "He gets his stick up on that one right before I got the penalty there, he hit Fish in the face. He'll probably have to get stiches, but it's part of it, obviously, I shouldn't have done what I did."
For his part, Kesler likes to play the role of the innocent.
"I don't know," Kesler said. "He usually -- he's good at keeping his composure. I wasn't even by the puck and he ripped me down by my face. I don't know."
In Game 3, Nashville complained about Vancouver players – to use Predators coach Barry Trotz's word -- "embellishing" two of the calls on which Vancouver scored power-play goals in a 3-2 overtime victory.
Vancouver coach Alain Vigneault took sharp exception after Game 4 that his players had embellished, mentioning Suter's penalty in particular.
"I know we battled real hard tonight," Vigneault said. "I hope they're not going to complain about embellishment tonight with the number of things that happened out there on the ice. Suter having the audacity to complain after he takes that penalty and just hauls Ryan Kesler down to the ice was utterly amazing."
For his part, Trotz did not try to make excuses for what his player did.
"You have to have composure," Trotz said. "You don't know what that moment or that incident – there are a thousand different things – you have to stay in that moment. You don't know what's going to change the course of a game. Keep your composure."
Suter didn't and it cost his team dearly.