Sean Avery has no particular aversion to the loathing he engenders around the league. Considered the game’s most notorious agitator, the New York Rangers left wing practically invites contempt with his provocative conduct on the ice.
That’s presumably why Rangers Coach John Tortorella elected to add Avery, a healthy scratch in six of the final 13 regular season games, to the active roster for Friday night’s Game 2 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals against the top-seeded Washington Capitals.
With New York barely registering a pulse offensively in this series, perhaps another contentious Avery moment could either inspire the Rangers or incite one or more of the Capitals’ top skill players into a foolish penalty.
“That’s what he does. He tried to get things stirred up,” Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said following his team’s 2-0 victory.
It took two and a half periods for Avery to draw the complete ire of the partisan crowd at Verizon Center. After a whistle with 9 minutes 9 seconds left in regulation, there was a scrum near the Capitals’ crease, and Avery was at the center of it when he collapsed onto right wing Alexander Semin.
Chants of “Avery sucks” filled the building, but that didn’t deter him. A few minutes later, Avery and Capitals veteran center Jason Arnott had words along the boards, but in no instance did the baiting work. That included when he appeared to slash defenseman John Erskine, also in the third period.
It was no coincidence Avery played more in the final frame, when the Rangers were desperate for anything, than at any other point of the Capitals’ victory that produced a commanding 2-0 series lead. Tortorella had said earlier in the day he anticipated energy and more robust forechecking from Avery, and after barely playing in the first 40 minutes, he was rested enough to supply just that in 10 shifts.
“In the third period I thought that was a pretty good line, [Vinny] Prospal, Brian Boyle and Sean,” Tortorella said. “It gave us some zone time. I thought we did some really good forechecking with that line.”
When Avery wasn’t on the ice during the first period, he sat at the far end of the bench, almost isolated from the rest of the Rangers. His single folding chair was detached from the bench in front of the gate, as if asked to sit in the corner. His role during most of the period appeared to be doorman for players entering and exiting the ice.
Only once in the first period did he receive acknowledgement from his teammates. It came with roughly two minutes to play, when Boyle tapped him on the arm shortly after a shift. Otherwise Avery kept to himself, and he had plenty of time to do so, playing just 2:41.
There were a couple heated exchanges between Avery and the Capitals in the period. Six minutes into the game, Washington left wing Brooks Laich and Avery collided near center ice, and when a whistle halted play soon after, Capitals forward Jason Chimera had words for Avery.
Then with six minutes left in the first, Capitals center Matt Hendricks and Avery exchanged pleasantries during another stoppage in play in front of Washington goalie Michal Neuvirth. In the second, Avery moved to the other side of the bench next to backup goalie Chad Johnson and stood most of the time. He skated just two minutes in that period.
“In the third period [Avery] did a really good job, I thought, of getting in there and getting the forecheck going,” Boudreau said. “That’s how he plays. I thought we did a really good job of staying out of it.”