As if last night’s game with the Ottawa Senators weren’t disastrous enough, news came down from on high today that Anders Lindback was injured after his collision with Cory Conacher. This coming after the Lightning had already lost starting goalie and Team MVP, Ben Bishop, and then second line center Val Filppula. Jon Cooper said this afternoon that Lindback should be out until after the Olympic break.
Of course, this shouldn’t come as a surprise to Tampa fans. Many of us, along with management and the coaching staff alike, have been screaming bloody murder about the Lightning’s lack of response to “incidental” contact with their goalies all season. And of course, after Conacher’s contact with Lindback, which was of the accidentally on purpose variety (as is 99% of contact with a goalie in the NHL), the nearby Tampa Bay Lightning defensemen looked, as usual, pretty much like cows on a hot summer day. They did nothing.
But, but, but, you’re saying, Conacher didn’t do it on purpose. And hey, didn’t JP Cote (who, ironically, was called up to the NHL to address exactly the goalie-protection concern), didn’t he push Conacher into Lindback?
Maybe. Maybe, but I don’t care. Nor should you. I don’t care if five Lightning players picked Conacher up battering-ram style and hurled him at Lindback. I don’t care if tripwire was involved. The message has to be sent: if you touch our goalie, even if you didn’t “mean” it, even if it’s our fault, and even if you are our own beloved scampy little Cory Conacher, you’re going to eat a sweaty Nike swoosh.
This is the philosophy for twenty-nine NHL teams, and this is why twenty-nine other starting goalies don’t get run nearly as much as our own starter, Ben Bishop. (More irony: It was Lindback who wound up injured, Lindback who doesn’t get run nearly as much as Bishop, and Bishop was injured earlier in the game as result of his own stupidity.) Go have a look at what the New York Rangers will do if someone sneezes in the general direction of Henrik Lundqvuist. Go see what a mess it causes if someone skates a little recklessly in the vicinity of Jonathan Quick.
Now compare that to what happens in Tampa when Ben Bishop, or in this case Anders Lindback, takes his nightly bulldozing.
Here’s the thing: if you think I’m angry at Conacher, or that I want the Bolts to be angry at Conacher, you’re wrong. Anger, justice, whatever, is not part of the equation. Conacher was just doing his job and I wish Tampa had a player who would crash the net as recklessly as he does. But the thing about Conacher’s job is it’s hard, and it’s supposed to be hard, and it’s supposed to be hard because teams like ours are supposed to make him pay a heavy price for doing it. Last night, Conacher lived up to his end of the bargain and we didn’t.
Now that we’ve finally seen a goalie injured as result of our humanitarianism, maybe it will finally be the catalyst for change. You might think I’m expressing a brutish point of view here, and you’re probably right. But hockey’s a rough sport. And there’s a meta-game that goes on beyond the one that actually shows up on the scoresheet. We can keep playing passive hockey and we can go on not defending our goalies while we wait for hockey to become the kinder, gentler sport it should be, but I promise you, if that’s our plan, Lindback won’t be the last Lightning goalie who pays the price.