On the wrong end of a massive hit from Jacob Trouba on Saturday night, Blackhawks center Andreas Athanasiou saw a player trying to hurt him.
With their team in a rut and trailing 3-0 in the second period, the Rangers saw their captain trying to deliver a much-needed spark.
Trouba’s clobbering hit of Athanasiou did not lead to a comeback win over the Blackhawks, only a 5-2 loss as the Rangers entered Monday’s clash against the Blues 1-4-1 over their last six games. But it did put his teammates on notice.
“That’s sending a message to the whole team that we need to wake up a little bit and play better,” fellow defenseman Ryan Lindgren said Monday before the Rangers’ win over the Blues. “Seeing him that passionate and that fiery, that provides a spark for our team. I thought we did a better job in the third of playing with a little more passion.”
Athanasiou, meanwhile, was none too pleased with Trouba, calling his reputation into question in the process.
“That guy is known for hitting high, not really worrying about the puck out there and almost trying to hurt people,” Athanasiou told the Chicago Sun-Times. “That’s his game; that’s what he does. He’s an $8 million man with zero goals, so he has to figure out how to do something when making that much. If you can’t help the team, I guess you try to hurt guys on the other team.”
The Rangers had just turned the puck over in their offensive zone when Athanasiou collected it and turned up the ice. He only got a few strides with the puck before Trouba came over the blue line and leveled him with his right shoulder, sending Athanasiou flying to the ice.
Relayed Athanasiou’s comment on Monday, Lindgren called it “ridiculous.”
“The guy’s going through the middle of the ice with his head down and Troubs has a very clean, legal hit,” Lindgren said. “So yeah, I have no idea what he meant by that. But that’s just part of the game. Big hits are part of the game. Especially with Troubs out there, if you got your head down, he’s going to make you pay.”
The crushing blow led to multiple fights simultaneously, including Jonathan Toews going after Trouba, who dropped the gloves for the second time that night and third time in two games after not fighting at all in the Rangers’ first 24 games.
Afterwards, Trouba skated off the ice for a five-minute fighting penalty and threw his helmet against the boards.
“It’s what had to be done the other night,” coach Gerard Gallant said. “He felt like our team was flat and I don’t blame him one bit. He’s a leader, he’s a captain, he’s frustrated with losing. So he went out there and had a big, clean hit and a fight. But things happen. He did show a little emotion and that’s what happens. A coach likes when you see that. I’m not a guy looking for fights every night, but that compete level rubs off on your teammates.”
The NHL seemingly agreed with Gallant and Lindgren’s assessment that it was a clean hit, not handing out any fine or suspension to the 6-foot-3, 209-pound defenseman.
Trouba has been on the delivering side of some big and often controversial open-ice hits in the past that drew criticism from opponents, including one on Sidney Crosby in the playoffs last season.
But on Saturday, the message he was sending to his scuffling team was clear.
“He’s our captain, he’s our leader,” Lindgren said. “He leads by example. Seeing him throw a big hit like that and obviously the fight after, just the way he played that whole game, you could tell how much it meant to him and how passionate he was. That was a wake-up call to our team. That’s just who he is and that’s what he provides. We gotta make sure we answer the bell.”