By Joe Starkey
Tuesday, April 29, 2008
PITTSBURGH - APRIL 27: Sean Avery #16 of the New York Rangers is cross-checked by Hal Gill #2 of the Pittsburgh Penguins and falls onto goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury #29 of the Penguins during game two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the 2008 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs on April 27, 2008 at Mellon Arena in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Gill's penalty gave New York one last chance on the power play to tie the game, but the Rangers fell short losing 2-0 to Pittsburgh. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Adam Graves all over again.
That's what I was thinking as I watched replays of Sean Avery's assault on Sidney Crosby with 6 seconds left in the first period Sunday.
It happened in the neutral zone, away from the puck.
Avery, the New York Rangers' resident coward, came up from behind -- as cowards often do -- and took two chopping slashes at Crosby's left wrist.
Neither hack was the kind of baseball-style swing that Graves took on Mario Lemieux in Game 2 of a 1992 playoff series between these teams -- the one that broke Lemieux's left hand -- but Avery obviously intended to inflict some damage.
The first slash connected. Luckily for Crosby, the harder second one did not, only because he'd whipped his smarting wrist out of the way.
Avery wasn't penalized.
Crosby didn't make an issue of it on the ice. He didn't mention it after the game or when he addressed reporters at his locker Monday.
Nobody asked Crosby about the incident, either, which means a lot of people probably didn't see it. Sneak attacks are designed that way.
In a quieter moment after yesterday's media session, I asked Crosby if he thought Avery was trying to injure him.
"He wasn't going for the puck," Crosby said. "He was going for my wrist."
A call to the Rangers' media relations office yesterday seeking comment from Avery wasn't returned.
Carefully choosing his words, Crosby went on.
"Obviously, he was trying to make me feel it a bit," he said. "I don't know if it was a direct intent to hurt me or anything. ... I guess he was just letting me know that he's there."
How's the wrist?
"I felt it," Crosby said, smiling. "It's just sore, nothing major."
Penguins coach Michel Therrien said he was well aware of the incident and added, somewhat cryptically, "I'm working on that right now."
Asked if that meant he was going to send a tape to league headquarters, Therrien said no.
I asked NHL spokesman Frank Brown if the league was reviewing Avery's actions.
"We review everything, every play of every game," Brown said.
But is the league reviewing that particular play for the purpose of possibly suspending Avery?
"If there is any action that is needed that would cause this person not to play (tonight), it will be announced before the game is played," Brown said.
In Game 1, Avery raked his stick across Crosby's face and wasn't penalized.
It's not exactly news that Avery is a league-wide joke. Or, as Penguins winger Gary Roberts put it a few weeks ago, "an idiot."
Roberts was speaking in the aftermath of Avery's ridiculous face-guarding act against New Jersey goaltender Martin Brodeur.
You might have heard what Avery did at the Rangers' next practice, when he realized a television camera had caught him re-enacting his face-guarding routine. He made an obscene gesture to the camera.
This is the kind of maladjusted mental midget you're dealing with.
Before this series, one Penguins player told me many of Avery's teammates on the Los Angeles Kings despised him and were thrilled when he was traded to the Rangers.
In a recent Sports Illustrated poll of 365 NHL players, Avery was voted the league's dirtiest player by a wide margin. He garnered 24 percent of the vote, compared to 11 percent for Anaheim's Chris Pronger and 10 percent for Penguins winger Jarkko Ruutu.
Who knows why this obnoxious little gnat is such an attention seeker? Maybe Penguins defenseman Hal Gill got it right in Game 2, after the benches exchanged words.
NBC analyst Pierre McGuire, stationed between the benches, said, "Hal Gill just said to Avery, 'You just weren't hugged enough as a child. That's why you've got issues.' "
Should be an interesting atmosphere tonight at Madison Square Garden, what with a blood-thirsty crowd harassing Crosby and Penguins goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury, who traded slashes with Avery at the end of Game 2.
At least those slashes were exchanged in plain sight and not in the shadowy outskirts, where cowards love to roam.
Joe Starkey is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.