By Tracey Myers in Chicago
The focus was once again on a big hit. And once again it was a very questionable one.
It was the battle of opinions again, the hitting side giving one take, the side getting hit giving another.
And once again, it's overshadowing a series that, if you take away the controversy, has produced some damn good hockey.
In three consecutive games, the Phoenix Coyotes and Chicago Blackhawks' outcome has come down to one goal. In three consecutive games they've gone to overtime. In three consecutive games it's been nail-biting, edge-of-your-seat -- insert another cliché in here -- hockey.
Yet very little of that has made the stories -- or at least it hasn't been among their top paragraphs. Because in the last two games, there have been hits that have each team angry, hostile and demanding for suspensions on the other. And those hits, and the frustration and safety debates they have festered, have dominated the headlines.
In one aspect, it's unavoidable. Each hit touched on a hotbed topic: Rookie Andrew Shaw's hit on Coyotes goalie Mike Smith reignited the debate about hitting goaltenders outside the crease. Phoenix forward Raffi Torres' hit on Chicago sniper Marian Hossa last night opened up an old wound for the Blackhawks, who still don't care for the Phoenix forward from his time in Vancouver. It also left the hockey world wondering what the repeat offender has coming to him from the NHL.
He'll find out Friday, when he has his in-person hearing.
Yes, it's been one murky series that has had more than a few media folks saying: "I miss when it was just hockey."
Phoenix head coach Dave Tippett said the Coyotes are trying not to get wrapped up in it all.
"The one thing our group is very focused on is making sure it doesn't overshadow everything. We're a focused group," he said. "Today, we had zero talk about what the league is doing with suspensions or this or that.
"Our focus is on what we have to do to play better tomorrow night in Game 4. To see if we can improve some areas of our game that need improving.
"Or find a way to get the next win in the series. A lot of the questions or a lot of the things going around are inconsequential to what our group is thinking about."
Maybe that's why Tippett ranted about the Torres situation, saying media coverage was causing all of this "hoopla," as he called it. Maybe he was just deflecting it all to make sure his Coyotes, up 2-1 in this series, are still focused on what's necessary. Everyone has their way of stoking a team.
And maybe that's why the Blackhawks were still talking non-stop about it on Wednesday. It was a hit that cost them a star player, and a hit from a guy they know all too well. And they, too, could turn this to their favor.
It was last season -- a year ago to the day, in fact -- that former Canuck Torres nailed Brent Seabrook behind the net, giving him a concussion for the next two games. It also raised the fire of the Blackhawks, who were down 3-0 to Vancouver at the time. That hit, which went unpunished by the NHL, combined with Dave Bolland's return motivated the Blackhawks, who nearly came back to upend the Canucks.
"I think retaliation, in the best form, is trying to win the hockey game," Blackhawks head coach Joel Queneville said. "We're all angry, me included, but we want to channel a little positivity toward the game and do something about it."
The hits will have their own affects on each team. Whatever they are, hopefully it leads to hockey becoming the focal point again.
Tracey Myers reports for Comcast Sportsnet Chicago. Follow her on Twitter @TramyersCSN
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