More so than any other sport, the intensity of nearly everything about hockey ratchets up once the post-season comes around.
The hits are harder, the strategic wrangling more important. Already a precious commodity, goals become more precious still when in April the sweet showers fall, piercing the drought of March.
Scheduled, roughly, with games every other day, series find their own rhythm: a game day and a day of reaction, followed by a game with story lines set by that reaction.
On and on it goes: the loud blast of a game, a day of echoes, a game played again, contrapuntal against the established background noise.
Often, the Day Two stories are easy.
Shea Weber did his part, mimicking King Kong Bundy with his turnbuckle shove of Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass in the waning moments of the first game of the Predators-Red Wings Western Conference Quarterfinal.
He earned himself a stern talking-to — and not much else — from NHL discipline czar Brendan Shanahan. Under the cloud of stronger punishment withheld — the oft-played "we were disrespected" card — the Wings won Game 2, which opened with a score-settling fisticuff exchange between Weber and Todd Bertuzzi.
The series goes to Detroit, where Weber, with one firm push, evolved overnight from Free Agent Target No. 1 to Public Enemy No. 1.
He is greeted with boos from the Joe Louis Arena crowd every time he smells the puck. And he responds with a crucial opening goal — on a power play, no less. Leading from the front, as a captain should, Weber satisfied the head-shove story line and a secondary — and ultimately more important — story line, which was that the Predators' top-ranked power play had been resolutely impotent in the first two games.
The key story lines from the first two games had, then, found their denouements, beat writers happily putting a bow on their carefully crafted narratives, but struggling in the stony silence of a Reaction Day with no reaction to be had.
Leave it to Bertuzzi — a skating-narrative generator if ever there was one — to act as Zhou Enlai to the coffee-stained press corps and offer the olive branch of Ping Pong Diplomacy.
It seems — the story goes — a clutch of Predators found a ping-pong table in the recesses of Joe Louis Arena and needing to blow off steam, decided to have a game.
Table tennis has been part of the background noise of the Predators for a while; there's a table in their locker room here in Nashville, as well. So it was a little taste of home in the Motor City.
But Bertuzzi was having none of it. He made it very clear to arena security the Preds were not permitted to use the paddles.
And thus: a controversy born.
Barry Trotz, master of the subtle dig, said (with emphasis rightly placed), "They have their toys, we have our toys. ... It's their toys, they can take them away." He then seized the high ground — or at least ceded the low ground to the Wings: "If they want a ping-pong table in Nashville, I'm more than willing to give them one."
Narrative set: The Wings are in a childish tizzy, having lost to the upstart Predators at home in the playoffs for the first time; the Predators are mature professionals taking it all in stride.
And when the series returns to Nashville Friday, there will be Forrest Gump clips shown on the Jumbotron, and gold-clad fans will wave paddles at Bertuzzi during warm-ups. On and on it goes, the silly little story doing its part to drive the action, until it flies away forgotten like a mishit forehand to be replaced by the next story — which the Preds hope is the second round for the second time.