If you thought the New York Rangers' Friday night tilt with the Florida Panthers would be little more than a breezy tuneup for the Winter Classic, you thought wrong. While the Rangers would indeed open up a three-goal lead early and coast to a 4-1 victory, the game was certainly not without incident.
Tensions erupted with the Panthers' net empty late in the third period, as Michael Del Zotto and Tomas Kopecky's battle in front of the net escalated at a pretty scary pace.
First, the two gentlemen jostled for position. Then, Del Zotto crosschecked Kopecky in the head. Then, Kopecky took umbrage to this and sucker-punched Del Zotto with a nasty right hook.
That's ugly. But keep watching. There's more.
As tensions erupted and the officials stepped in to separate the two teams, Michael Rupp expressed his disapproval with Kopecky's sucker punch by yanking the Panthers' winger away from the officials and peppering him with blows to the head.
Expectedly, he was given a 10-minute misconduct, because you're not allowed to do that. Kopecky received a 10-minute match penalty for his actions as well.
One assumes this isn't the end of this incident either, especially after the postgame comments from Panthers' coach Kevin Dineen and winger Krys Barch. From the Florida Sun-Sentinel:
"Some guy crosschecks you in the back he deserves a smash in the face. He got what he deserved and then guys that play five minutes a night, that's typical they go out there and grab one of our skilled players,'' Dineen said. "We'll see what the response is."
Panthers enforcer Krystopher Barch jumped in trying to get at Rupp, and received a game misconduct while Del Zotto only got two minutes for high sticking.
"I'm sure we'll have a meeting next week in New York," Barch said of next Thursday's rematch against the Rangers. "You can't allow that stuff to happen. … That's just not allowed to go on in terms of a teammate getting jumped like that. We'll take care of that next week."
You've got to love a good threat to avenge. That is, unless you're Brendan Shanahan. Or fans of the 2003-04 Colorado Avalanche or Vancouver Canucks.
Considering this whole thing started with a sucker punch, continued escalation would be less than ideal. That in mind, one wonders if Shanahan will opt to take care of this before next week. Will either Rupp or Kopecky see supplemental discipline for their actions?
Either way, here we all were, looking forward to the Winter Classic like it was the only game on the Rangers' schedule. But next Thursday just became appointment viewing as well.