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Don't Poke the Bear, Redux

by Angela Latona / Boston Bruins
The aftermath of Sean Avery's 'tap' to the back of Tim Thomas' head. (photo: Babineau)

Picture this: 17,565 Boston Garden fans – for the purposes of this exercise we’ll call them ‘witnesses’ – most are simply dripping in Black & Gold. Now throw into the picture two of the NHL’s oldest, most bitter rivals. Tack on an unwritten rule about respect for a team’s goaltender and why not add in another unwritten rule about timeouts being, well, just what they imply.

Insert agitator and you have a recipe for some shenanigans.

On Saturday afternoon, New York Rangers forward Sean Avery was up to his same old tricks – but this time he might have bitten off more than he can chew: an angry Tim Thomas and every other Boston Bruin in the building.

Boston Bruins goalie Tim Thomas (30) battles New York Rangers' Fredrik Sjostrom, of Sweden, at center ice during the third period of Boston's 1-0 win in an NHL hockey game in Boston Saturday, April 4, 2009. (AP Photo/Winslow Townson)
During a third period TV-timeout during Saturday’s matinee game, Avery skated with his stick leveled toward the B’s goaltender, who was stretching on the ice. Passing close by the unassuming Thomas, Avery’s stick clipped the back of the goalie’s helmet and, despite his angelic expression of innocence, the flurry of action that followed had everyone on the ice involved in a skirmish and the crowd in an uproar.

This isn’t the first time Avery has instigated televised attention for how he’s treated a goaltender, either. Nearly one year ago, to the day, he became a league-wide concern after attempting to screen Devils future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur during a Stanley Cup playoff game by waving his hands in front of the netmider’s face and completely ignoring the play behind him.

While no explicit rule existed to prevent players from waving their arms in front of a goaltender in order to distract them, it was later deemed an infraction of the unsportsmanlike conduct ilk and nicknamed the “Sean Avery Rule.”

“You know he’s going to do something in a game,” Bruins head coach Claude Julien said after the game, a 1-0 win for Boston. “He always does; that’s what he thrives on, so for me it’s just, you’ve got to keep an eye on this guy all the time, even after whistles, because when he did that, he looked around to see if anybody was looking.

“He’s an expert at that.”

But what Avery probably wasn’t anticipating was how quickly the rest of the Boston skaters reacted. Clearly, as a Bruin, it’s a matter of protecting your teammate before knowing everyone’s side to the story.

Sean Avery topples over Tim Thomas after a hit by Shane Hnidy.
“I turned around and I saw Timmy go after him,” Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said. “I had no clue what happened. I [was] just trying to help him out and just came out and [Fredrik] Sjostrom just kind of pushed [Thomas] in the back, so I had no clue what’s going on, but I was trying to stick up for Timmy.

“I knew something happened, because Timmy would never do that if it wasn’t for something pretty bad.”

The off-air fisticuffs between Bostonians and New Yorkers resulted in just a handful of penalties and a YouTube video or two, but the implications of the “unique” style of play could factor into the playoff feel as the 8th place Manhattanites are currently in place to face the East’s 1st place West Enders.

“I really like the fact that we kept our composure and got the win there,” Thomas said about the B’s reaction to the incident. “That’s the key. When you react, you fall a little bit into exactly what he wants you to do.

“But if you can react and not have it affect your game, then he didn’t do his job, and it didn’t work.”

Defenseman Mark Stuart noted that the Rangers are tough competitors and, if in the playoffs, they will provide the same challenge the Bruins have seen all season-long.

“They’re an extremely hard working team and tough to play against,” he said. “I thought we pushed back and played physical against them, and we’ve always had close games with them so it would be a very tough opponent [in the playoffs] for sure.”

Avery might like to cause trouble on the ice, but, like Thomas, Stuart recognized the fact that it is only a problem if his own teammates let it become a problem.

“Everybody wants to stir things up a little bit and play physical,” he said. “I mean, you know what you’re going to get from them, you just can’t let it bother you too much.”

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