On Tuesday night the Columbus Blue Jackets completed the somewhat stunning upset of the Tampa Bay Lighting, a team that had a historic regular season and just couldn't keep it together once the playoffs started. I say "somewhat" stunning because the NHL is the one league where an upset like this is possible, though still unlikely. What is stunning, however, is the manner in which the Blue Jackets won, sweeping the top-seeded Bolts and outscoring them 19-8 for the series. What's worse is that the Lightning led 3-0 in Game 1 on home ice, eventually allowing an epic comeback by the Jackets that propelled them to a series win.
The swift ending on Tuesday night meant this was the first series to feature "handshakes," which, NHL stans will tell you (myself included), is the classiest postgame tradition in sports. After four to seven games of chirping, beating each others brains in and wanting to literally kill your opponent, both teams respectfully shake hands and tell each other good job in an orderly fashion. Unless you're Sean Avery and Martin Brodeur.
Or, apparently, unless you're Artemi Panarin and Nikita Kucherov, who each hail from Russia but faced off with one another this series. Panarin, Columbus's star winger, had two goals and three assists for the series, while Kucherov struggled, tallying just two assists. Getting swept was no doubt frustrating, but Kucherov's play in particular had to really frustrate him, as it came after he led the league in points and assists by a wide margin in the regular season. This frustration was more apparent than ever in the handshake line, when Panarin went in for the high five while pretty much laughing in Kucherov's face. Kucherov was having none of it:
Not sure why the announcer is saying they are not the best of friends, because I'm pretty sure the two Russians are somewhat tight. Last summer, they posted a picture together with Tampa Bay goalie and fellow Russian Andrei Vasilevskiy on a beach in Tampa, immediately sparking rumors that Panarin might come to play for the Bolts:
Prior to this season, Kucherov was asked about the picture and whether he thought it was possible Panarin could come to Tampa when he hits free agency this off-season. Kucherov replied "Sure! He is a great player. He would be a great addition to our team and it would be nice to have another Russian. We practiced together last summer, enjoyed every second of it." Maybe that means they are best buds and maybe it doesn't, but to characterize them as "not the best of friends" seems wrong.
If they are good buddies, this move from Panarin is even more savage than we first thought. Everybody loves to rip on their friends, but to do it on national TV after beating them and laughing in their face is ballsy. Would anyone have blamed Kucherov for socking Panarin in the face? Then again, Kucherov kind of deserved it after his hit on Panarin's teammate in Game 2, which earned Kucherov a suspension:
Tough night and subsequent morning for the Lightning faithful, though we should have all seen this coming after the grave mistake that was made prior to Game 1: