Calgary and Nashville have a history. It dates back to last year when Tomas Vokoun left his crease to deliver a strong elbow to Jarome Iginla. It continued when Iginla fought back againt Vokoun in a later game. And again this year when Jordon Tootoo threw a late punch at Iginla after knocking Iginla down in a fight.
Sense a trend here?
Saturday nights game was more of the same from Nashville. The Predators spent most of the game tackling Flame players, crosschecking them, interfering (my GOD the interfering) with nary a call. After a time, Calgary picked up on the lack of calls and returned the favour. Ville Niemenen crosschecked an opponent in the back, only to be crosschecked in the face himself.
And finally, Chris Simon pinned down by Scott Hartnell in a holding match, deep in Nashville's end, in the final minute, forcing the flames offside for 30 seconds, costing a chance to tie. Ultimately, this led to a scuffle which involved Iginla being targeted once again, and the Flames somehow shorthanded.
Barry Trotz took a frustrating situation and made it worse by sending Jordon Tootoo - who was a lightning rod for trouble all night long - out with three seconds left. Calgary, down to four skaters, countered with Oliwa, and its three biggest defensemen in Regehr, Warrener and Commodore. This move promptly caused Trotz to haul Tootoo back on the ice for his own safety. The hockey hero of Nunivut responded by taunting Oliwa and the Flames from the safety of his bench - typical of his cowardly style.
And thus, the scene was set for the Flames to send the message that needed to be sent. Everyone knew it. 40 players and two coaching staff's knew it. CBC knew it. The officials knew it. 18,439 fans chanting "O-LI-WA! O-LI-WA! O-LI-WA!" knew it.
Down went the puck, and off came the gloves. Krysztof Oliwa, unable to find anyone willing to dance prior to the faceoff, was actually skating away to the Flames bench when the fights started. The remaining Flame players werent going to take it anymore. After two years of constant dirty play by the Predators, payback was in order. That brawl was a message to "Smashville" that their dirty play will no longer be tolerated.
More importantly, that brawl was a message to the NHL itself. A message that the NHL has typically overlooked. By failing to call the Predators (and to a lesser extent, the Flames) transgressions, NHL referees, and by extension, the NHL itself, are guilty of condoning the sort of cheap, chippy violence that plagues the game. The end of this game is what one should expect when the referees lose control of the game through their own incompetence.
In the post Bertuzzi era, the focus on violence is intense. Unfortunately, the focus is only on the result, not the cause. Until the NHL starts looking at why brawls happen, this league can never become proactive in preventing violent outbreaks.
In the case of the Flames-Predators game, all it would have taken was for the officials to call both teams for the blatant tackles and interference that would have made an NFL lineman proud.
Saturday's brawl was all on the officials, and the league itself.