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Cal Clutterbuck(notes) was, well, Cal Clutterbuck in the Minnesota Wild's 3-1 victory over the Colorado Avalanche last night. He led all skaters with five hits. He had an assist on Matt Cullen's(notes) shorthanded goal that opened the scoring in the first. And after the game, he engaged on some quality smack talk, via the AP:

"There are some guys over there, two guys in particular, I'm shocked they're still even playing in the league," Clutterbuck said. "If they're going to take a penalty, take a penalty. We're on the road, we'll take a power play any day of the week. If they want to flaunt their egos, they want to show how tough they are, we're going to beat you."

The Avalanche had four penalties last night: a fighting major for Ryan Wilson(notes) in the first, a roughing call on David Koci(notes) and a too-many-men bench minor in the second, and a tripping call on Daniel Winnik(notes) in the third.

As expected, the locals are loving the brash smack talk from Clutterbuck. The Denver media? Not so much. In the sense that one writer called him "a cowardly hockey player" and "Bill Laimbeer on skates."

First, here's Michael Russo of the Star Tribune on Clutterbuck's pest-ish game against the Avalanche and his "gutsy" quote:

Clutterbuck drives the Avs nuts because he runs around, bringing energy, bringing big hits, but he won't fight. Whatever you think of that, it's effective, and I can count on one hand maybe in the past three years the number of Clutterbuck hits that even bordered on questionable.

For a guy who if healthy should lead the NHL in hits for a third straight year, he has 150 penalty minutes total. That's pretty extraordinary.

One man's restraint is another man's cowardice. Adrian Dater of the Denver Post went rip city on Clutterbuck on All Things Avs after the postgame smack talk:

Cal Clutterbuck is the type of player who will hit you when you're not looking. Then, when you want to do something about that, he's going to duck his head down and paw away at the angry paws coming at him, until he can get himself into some kind of rope-a-dope situation, or better yet, the referee comes over and breaks it up.

That's exactly what Clutterbuck did tonight after he tried his best to hit TJ Galiardi(notes) with a hit from behind on the glass, capped off with a stuck out knee in hopes it might catch a good portion of Galiardi's knee.

Avs captain Adam Foote(notes) came over, grabbed Clutterbuck by the collar and essentially dared him to do anything more. Clutterbuck looked like a guy trying to excuse himself from the dinner table, before one more aunt wants to come over and smooch him on the cheeks. Very uncomfortable, in other words.

Foote grabbed Clutterbuck by the lapels, inquiring about a mano-e-mano way of possibly settling this, but Clutterbuck looked like the guy just hoping to be taken to jail rather than trying to fight his way out.

Dater called Clutterbuck a "cowardly player" and a "hit-and-run artist."

The Wild forward has seven career fights and none this season, so for all the hitting there hasn't been a lot of answering the bell for his actions. But is that so wrong?

He's a pest, and pests by their very nature don't answer for their actions because, well, they're pests. The "cowardly heel" has been a motif from Hollywood to the wrestling ring to the hockey rink, with one connective theme: They elicit a response with their behavior and they only way they're getting their comeuppance is through forceful retribution or by the tormented capturing a grander prize.

Which is to say that if the Avs want a piece of Clutterbuck, they're going to have to take the penalty that comes with it; or they're going to have to simply win, win, win again and help keep the Minnesota Wild out of the postseason (again), relegating Clutterbuck's "cowardice" to the 18th hole.

Although, in fairness, we're also shocked that David Koci is still even playing in the league ...

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