Teemu Selanne has scored a bunch of goals. Bobby Ryan did something so dastardly that he earned a two-game suspension from the league office. Any number of players has pushed, shoved and provoked following whistles.
Three games in the Western Conference quarterfinals series between the Nashville Predators and Anaheim Ducks, though, one Anaheim player clearly has emerged as the villain in the eyes of Predators’ fans. That player is Corey Perry, the NHL’s leading goal scorer during the regular season and a top contender for the Hart Trophy, the league’s most valuable player award.
The anger and vitriol does not exactly extend to the Predators’ bench or locker room. There, in fact, he’s regarded with respect and a certain admiration.
“Corey Perry — I’d love to have him on our team,” coach Barry Trotz said. “He’s a superstar in the league, and he’s got a lot of rough edges, if you will. He doesn’t mind getting involved. He’s got a little bit of Bobby Clarke in him — you know, he’ll use his stick.
“He walks the line every day, every game.”
It was with a hit on Sergei Kostitsyn late in the second period of Nashville’s 4-3 victory Sunday in Game 3 that the 25-year-old forward finally crossed the line in the minds of most Predators’ supporters.
Many thought a cross-check could have — and should have — been called on the play. It was not. Instead, it was just the latest example in the series of times that referees considered his rugged style to be within the rules.
When Perry touched the puck on his first shift a third period, some in the sellout crowd of 17,113 at Bridgestone Arena let loose with a chorus of boos. The next time out. he was serenaded with “Perry is a sissy,” a chant typically reserved only for the most reviled of opposing players including Chris Chelios, Mike Modano or Sean Avery.
“I think that’s the way he plays,” Nashville captain Shea Weber said. “He plays hard and he’s a little bit of a pest. Obviously, he’s a great player — he scored 50 goals this year. So I think he does a little bit of everything.”
Given the way he’s being used, Nashville’s supporters can expect plenty of opportunities to let Perry know how they feel in Game 4 on Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena.
Perry has averaged 30 shifts per game thus far in the series, the most for any Ducks’ player. His average ice time of 23:30 is second overall for Anaheim and the highest for any forward on either team.
“He’s doing what he thinks it’s going to take to win,” center David Legwand said. “They’re following him and [Ryan] Getzlaf. Those guys lead the team and push the team. … We just have to keep on them and stay on them and make them work for every inch they get.”
Perry was the league’s only 50-goal scorer during the regular season and finished with 98 points. He also had 104 penalty minutes, which made him the only one of the league’s top 35 in points with at least 100 penalty minutes.
Through three postseason contests, he has a team-high five points (one goal, four assists), which ties him with Nashville’s Mike Fisher for the overall series lead. At the same time, he has been credited with just one hit and has been assessed only one penalty — a slash in Game 1 at Anaheim.
“He’s been like that all year, to be honest,” Predators’ right wing Joel Ward said. “He’s got a lot of PIMs too as well as 50 goals. It’s not like it’s something new to him. We have to know kind of what to expect because that’s his style of game the way he plays. And it works for him.”
That’s why the Predators are not getting particularly worked up about him.
“He’s a good player,” defenseman Ryan Suter said. “Man, he plays hard. Obviously, you know his skill. He’s an all-around hard player.
“… It’s playoff hockey. That’s what you expect.”