Sean Avery found yet another way to annoy Martin Brodeur, and forced the NHL to change a rule in his honor.
The Hall of Fame resume of the New Jersey Devils goalie doesn't resonate with Avery, the New York Rangers forward, who has turned agitation into an art form. During a 5-on-3 power play in New Jersey's 4-3 overtime playoff victory Sunday night, Avery planted himself in the crease with his back to the action and faceguarded Brodeur.
Holding his stick upward, Avery waved it side to side and up and down to block Brodeur's vision in a newfangled method of screening. Brodeur gave him a whack, but that was hardly a deterrent.
"I've played for 15 years in this league. I've been watching games for 33 years. I had never seen that in my life," Brodeur said. "I don't think that kind of behavior should be done in front of the net, but there is no rule for it."
That was true Sunday, but not Monday. The NHL moved quickly to eliminate this activity by making an on-the-fly rule interpretation.
"An unsportsmanlike conduct minor penalty will be interpreted and applied, effective immediately, to a situation when an offensive player positions himself facing the opposition goaltender and engages in actions such as waving his arms or stick in front of the goaltender's face, for the purpose of improperly interfering with and/or distracting the goaltender as opposed to positioning himself to try to make a play," Colin Campbell, the NHL director of hockey operations said in a statement.
The change was met with positive reaction.
"It's almost an unwritten rule," Montreal rookie goalie Carey Price said. "It's like when you're a kid in the backseat that's going, 'I'm not touching you, I'm not touching you.' When I was about 7 or 8 years old, I would probably try and get in your bubble like that."
Avery scored during the advantage in a traditional way, receiving a feed from Scott Gomez and redirecting the puck into the net.
Still, what led to the goal was the pressing issue.
"That's not something that anyone writing the rule book has anticipated, and I don't think that we view that as part of our game," said Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford, an NHL goalie for 13 seasons. "With that being said, Sean Avery didn't do anything to break any rules.
"With every rule that is written, or how we try to change the game, somebody gets creative. Sean has gone beyond being a little bit creative on this one."
That is exactly what you get from Avery, a talented player always looking for ways to push the envelope. He rarely stops talking on the ice or the bench, whether it's to opponents, teammates, officials or anyone who will listen.
"I've never seen that before," Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Ryan Whitney said. "It seemed odd to me. He's not in a position to get a rebound if there is one because his stick is up in the air."
As with most unexpected wrinkles, Rutherford expected the issue to be addressed by GMs before next season. That was before Campbell stepped in.
"To see that for the first time in a playoff game, that seemed to go a little beyond how we would expect the game to be played," Rutherford said. "The defenseman has a responsibility of moving players out from in front of the net, which becomes a little bit harder now with the obstruction and interference rules.
"Clearly it's not up to Marty to defend against that. He is supposed to stop the puck. It's really going to be up to Marty's teammates to offset what he is doing."
The trick for players matched against Avery is to ignore him, but that is easier said than done. Avery has the knack of riling up people to the point they find themselves mouthing off, or worse, getting so angered that he draws a penalty from someone who will do almost anything to shut him up.
"He's an idiot," Penguins forward Gary Roberts said.
The 41-year-old Roberts is no stranger to Avery, and his 21 seasons of NHL experience did nothing to help him keep his cool. Back in November, Avery goaded Roberts into a 4-minute high-sticking penalty that led to a goal in a Rangers victory.
"A guy like that, they take it a little bit more of an insult after you disrespect them and all they've done for the game and how great they are," Avery said then of Roberts.
Brodeur is no exception. Avery has crashed into him on several occasions, dropped him with shoves and punches, and goaded him into trips and swipes. In Game 2 of this series, Avery stood in front of Brodeur long after play headed back up ice. The two jawed, and Brodeur even leaned his head against Avery's helmet during the exchange.
"If they have to change the rule because somebody wants to be unsportsmanlike and deface the game of hockey, I'm all for it," Stars goalie Marty Turco said. "Hopefully, guys understand the integrity of the sport.
"That's just something you don't do. It's kind of bush league. Hopefully it's the last we see of it."
Avery has pestered the Devils in many ways in the best-of-seven series that New York leads 2-1. He has earned multiple power plays and has scored in each of the first three games.
"Here we are trying to sell the game, and stuff like that is going on," Devils forward John Madden said. "I just find it childish and I don't agree with any of it.
"There's not much you can do without taking a penalty or doing something stupid. You've got to ignore him and play on and not let him be a factor in the game."
Although Avery isn't speaking to reporters during the series, no doubt he has enjoyed drawing the Devils' attention.
"That's just Sean Avery being Sean Avery," Ottawa Senators forward Chris Neil said. "It's kind of like an instigator. He may not be doing anything, but he is initiating."