Ok, let’s talk about this. We could talk about so many other things Positive things. We could talk about John Curry playing a blinder of a game in his first NHL contest since January 6th, 2010, and his first in Minnesota since he was starring for Breck High School. We could talk about Christian Folin, who made his NHL debut against an excellent team, and emerged from it playing a respectable 19+ minutes, was plus-3 and had an assist. We could talk about Kyle Brodziak, who finally found his accuracy, scoring twice after a torturous season, especially his latest 17-game dry-spell, in which he spurned glorious chance after glorious chance. We could simply talk about how the Wild kept their momentum going against a desperate team, despite resting several of their stars for large stretches of the game (and scratching some other regulars altogether), finally slaying the St. Louis beast after four soul-crushing defeats earlier in the season.
But nope, we’ve got to talk about this:
That’s forgotten man Mike Rupp blindsiding T.J. Oshie in the second period, knocking Oshie senseless and from the game. It set the armchair twitter analysts into a tizzy, leading to a lot of bad blood, bad insults, and bad jokes about Brendan Shanahan, or whomever will have Shanahan’s job by the time Rupp comes up for hearing.* It was a stain on what was an otherwise pristine, exciting game, made even better by the fact that, for several of the reasons mentioned in paragraph one, had every reason to be a dud.
First of all, let’s take a look at the hit itself. There are a lot of factors to this. I, like many others I’m sure, have watched the hit many times, and I still can’t figure out if the hit was intentionally dirty or just grossly irresponsible. I want to lean towards the latter, but I wonder if there are some natural biases affecting my decision making.
One thing can be sure, the hit wasn’t needed. Oshie wasn’t going anywhere dangerous, and by the time he was drilled, he was at least two strides from having possessed the puck. The Wild were already going to be getting a delayed penalty, and throwing that type of hit, even if Oshie had popped right back up, only ensured that Minnesota would end up two players down for a full two minutes.
Rupp is 6’5″, Oshie 5’11”. Defenders of Rupp have consistently pointed to that fact, and also the fact that Oshie was slightly bent over and watching his pass. I can’t defend the pass-watching, except to say that it is only natural to follow a pass for a beat to see that it hit its intended target, especially when that target is near the blue line, as his recipient, Vladimir Sobotka, was. I have little patience for the other two arguments. For one thing, hockey players, especially those who are playing the puck, are almost always slightly bent, whereas players who are throwing hits tend to be straighter. This of course widens the height gap between Rupp and Oshie, and furthers the responsibility on Rupp, the taller man, not to do exactly what he did. Not all hits need to be thrown, and while the hit may not have been intentionally dirty (and only Mike Rupp knows this) it was egregiously irresponsible.
The other half of this story is how the hit looks. By this, I mean perception of the intent, not the look of the hit itself. One could make the argument that it was a hatchet job. And if I lived in the greater St. Louis area I would be hard pressed not to say that the hit looks like a player who hasn’t played in two months, and who won’t play when the playoffs start, taking an intentional run at arguably the most important forward the Blues have outside of David Backes. Is this even remotely true? No, not at all, but Wild fans made the same argument last year when Dustin Brown’s elbow got too high on Jason Pominville, knocking Pominville out, so Minnesota supporters should be ready for the same noise. The fact that the Wild won the game only heightens the probability that these teams will meet in the first round, and the Blues were provided all the fuel they need with that one play. It could be a nasty series now, and given the makeup of the two teams, I’m not sure the Wild can survive over seven nasty games with the much bigger and generally more physical Blues.
Mike Rupp has been a lot of things throughout his NHL career. He’s been a tough guy, a grinder, a respected teammate in six NHL cities, and even a game seven Stanley Cup Finals hero with New Jersey in 2003. He has never been suspended, despite plying his trade almost exclusively in the physical side of the game.
Given the amount he had played over the course of the season, it seems reasonable to assume that his career is almost over. He’ll be suspended for Sunday’s game against Nashville, as well as the first few playoff games, and it will take a truckload of injuries to get him back in the lineup in a postseason. We may have just witnessed the last meaningful act of Mike Rupp’s NHL career. What a sad end if that is truly the case.
*Update. Rupp will receive a four game suspension.