DETROIT – "He was a monster out there." That's how coach Barry Trotz described captain Shea Weber after the Nashville Predators' 3-2 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Sunday. Trotz meant it as a compliment.
You can demonize Weber for what he did in Game 1 of this first-round playoff series. You can disagree with the NHL's decision not to suspend him. But a dirty play does not make a dirty player, and you have to acknowledge that this was the usual Shea Weber here in Game 3, a monster of a defenseman, intimidating for all the right reasons, never intimidated.
Weber shrugged off the boos. He scored on the power play. He fired his howitzer from the point. He threw three hits, blocked three shots and led all skaters with 27:06 of ice time – almost 10 minutes of it in the third period, when the Predators sat back too much, endured an onslaught and earned a 2-1 series lead.
"You talk about great players," Trotz said. "When there's a little bit of adversity or controversy or a big moment, guys step up. Obviously when he came to the rink, he knew he wasn't going to be the most likeable guy in the arena, and he made a big statement. He said, 'I'm here to stay. Nothing's going to stop me from being a top player.' "
Weber is a block of granite. He just looks hard – 6-foot-4, 232 pounds, all muscles and beard. That helped him look sinister Wednesday night, when he retaliated for a hit from behind by Henrik Zetterberg at the final horn. He swung at the back of Zetterberg's head, grazing him. Then he grabbed the back of Zetterberg's head and shoved it into the glass – cracking Zetterberg's helmet, but thankfully not his skull.
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Look, NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan whiffed when he fined Weber but didn't suspend him. I stand by that. It was not a hockey play gone bad; it was a deliberate targeting of the head. It was black and white. In this age of concussion awareness, it deserved a one-game suspension in the playoffs. I hope Shanahan's decision has not been a contributing factor to the rash of violence that has broken out in other series since.
But I at least understand the thought behind giving Weber a break. He had been fined only once, for a boarding incident earlier this season. He has never been suspended in his seven-year NHL career. Though he's tough, nasty, even frightening, he hadn't gone that far before. This was a fit of rage, an overreaction, generally out of character. This is a guy who didn't fight once during the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons, according to hockeyfights.com.
Weber fought Todd Bertuzzi early in Game 2 on Friday night, in keeping with The Code, and as far as the Wings themselves were concerned, it was over. Weber looked a little tentative after the fight, and though he scored late, the Predators lost, 3-2.
But as far as the Wings' fans were concerned, it was not over. They hadn't had a chance to let him have it yet. Before the national anthem Sunday at Joe Louis Arena, they chanted Bertuzzi's name – as much an admonishment of Weber as an honoring of Bertuzzi. When Weber touched the puck, he was booed.
Back to the block of granite. As teammate Kevin Klein said: "He's pretty stone-faced out there." Think boos are going to bother him?
"It's part of it," Weber said. "Whatever."
Weber took some energy out of the boos early, anyway. The best way to play the villain is to be a hero.
First, Weber broke Pavel Datsyuk's stick with his heavy shot on the power play. Then, he sneaked up on the net. Because Datsyuk didn't have a stick, he had to use his hands to do what he could. He pushed Preds winger Andrei Kostitsyn, who bumped into Wings defenseman Brad Stuart, who bumped into Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard. Weber finished the chain reaction by banging a rebound into an open net, giving the Predators a 1-0 lead just 2:48 in.
A lot of crazy stuff happened later in the game – a Bobby Orr rush by Klein, who entered the game with only 13 career goals, regular season and playoffs combined; a nifty goal by Datsyuk, who picked the pocket of Roman Josi and stuffed the puck into the Nashville net before anyone knew what happened; a no-goal for the Wings' Johan Franzen, who just failed to beat the second-period horn; a big save by Klein, who got his stick shaft on a Cory Emmerton shot headed for an open net. The Preds were outshot in the third, 19-4, but traded goals with the Wings toward the end.
Through it all, Weber was a rock. As usual.
"I don't know if he was any different than he always is," said Red Wings coach Mike Babcock. "He's just a real good player."
Weber had 19 goals in the regular season and has two more in these playoffs already. He is a candidate for the Norris Trophy as the NHL's best defenseman. Along with Rinne and partner Ryan Suter, he is the backbone of a team hoping to make its first monster playoff run.
"Shea's one of those top guys," Trotz said. "He is all business on and off the ice. He has been a total pro. He's as advertised."
Just not necessarily as he has been advertised lately.
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