Steve Downie has been a very bad boy. The Tampa Bay Lightning’s winger barreled down the “slot” in front of the Washington Capitals’ net like a crosstown bus, plowing into and over Semyon Varlamov, the Caps’ goalie. In the National Hockey League, this kind of thing just isn’t tolerated. It’s an affront, a provocation, an invitation to violence. Someone would have to reply.
Racing Downie up the ice, Matt Hendricks, the Capitals’ forward, caught him along the boards near the corner. With a hard check, he pinned Downie against the wall. Downie reciprocated with a low forearm. As the crowd at Verizon Center rose with swelling anticipation, it was on. The two men wrestled in a confusion of sticks and gloves, skates slip-sliding beneath them. Hendricks swung, landing the first and decisive blow, an uppercut that snapped Downie’s head back. Stunned but not incapacitated, Downie grabbed the nape of Hendricks’s jersey and tugged, momentarily turning his adversary into a flailing, headless turtle. Downie rained blows, but Hendricks, swinging blindly, miraculously connected with a couple of jabs. Within moments, the two angry players were in a pile on the ice, immobilized by officials. The altercation was over.