Same goes for Esa Tikkanen and Roberto Luongo. New Jersey Devils forward Steve Bernier — with one of the worst-timed and ill-advised checks in NHL playoff history — has let you all off the hook as Stanley Cup Final goats.
Bernier won’t get his name on the Stanley Cup hoisted by the Los Angeles Kings on Monday night at Staples Center for the first time in franchise history, but he arguably is the most responsible for the Kings’ series-clinching 6-1 victory in Game 6.
Lagging far behind the action, Bernier’s brutal boarding of Kings defenseman Rob Scuderi drew a major penalty and a game misconduct. That cleared the way for Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter and Trevor Lewis to score on the five-minute power play that ensued.
“It’s going to take a long time to get that play off my mind,” Bernier said.
With one swift shoulder midway through the first period, Bernier emerged at the top of the list of finals heels. Bernier surpassed McSorley (illegal stick in Game 2 in 1993 as a member of the Kings’ only other finals team), Tikkanen (Washington forward who missed open net in Game 2 in 1998 against Detroit) and Luongo (Vancouver goalie who said he didn’t get enough credit last year before his team blew a 3-2 series lead).
Scuderi left with a bloody nose and lip that required stitches. He returned in the second period.
In the meantime, the Kings seized control of the game and scored as many power-play goals as they had in the first five games of the series combined.
“It was a good feeling because I knew I wouldn’t have to score for us,” joked Scuderi, the lone Kings player without a goal among skaters with more than three playoff games. “It was great job by the guys on the power play to take advantage. . . . It’s not the most ideal way to participate in the game.”
The timing of the hit was bad on a couple of levels.
First, it came in a scoreless game as Bernier’s team was attempting to even a series after it had dropped the first three games. It also came at a time where head injuries — in the NHL and in other sports — have drawn increased scrutiny and more strict discipline.
“In my point of view, I don’t (think it deserved as harsh of a penalty),” Bernier said. “I know he stayed down. After that, I didn’t see anything. Obviously, it’s a fast game. There were hard hits all over the ice. You want to help your team win. You don’t want to get five minutes and help the team lose.”
As the Kings eased to a victory, the Devils continued to lose their composure.
Devils forward Ryan Carter checked Scuderi on top of his own goalie, Jonathan Quick, with 5:37 left in the second period. The collision after the whistle drew a roughing minor and 10-minute misconduct. David Clarkson drew another 10-minute misconduct for the Devils later in the same period.
Bernier showered and stayed in the locker room after he was ejected, away from any televisions broadcasting the game. He also hadn’t reviewed the controversial hit.
“I tried to listen to the crowd,” Bernier said. “It was very hard for sure. I wish I could take that play back, but I can’t.”
Bernier said several players greeted him in the locker room after he was tossed and tried to console him.
Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador, for one, said he doesn’t consider Bernier a goat.
“It’s easy to scapegoat,” Salvador said. “At the end of the day, they won four games. How they won this game doesn’t matter. They just won it. They won four. You have to give them credit for that. . . . It’s a non-issue. That’s hockey. Everything happens fast.”