Anderson: Don't blame the referees, blame Nazem Kadri

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13: Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs reacts after a fight with Jake DeBrusk of the Boston Bruins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
BOSTON, MA - APRIL 13: Nazem Kadri of the Toronto Maple Leafs reacts after a fight with Jake DeBrusk of the Boston Bruins in Game Two of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at TD Garden. (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

By Ty Anderson, 985TheSportsHub.com

It's been over 24 hours since Nazem Kadri played the role of Casey Jones with a CCM right to Jake DeBrusk's head, and with an in-person hearing looming over Kadri's Monday, another suspension surely awaits the 28-year-old center.

And some of the mental gymnastics that have come out of Toronto since have been nothing short of incredible.

Rather than acknowledge the fact that we're talking about a player prone to completely losing control, Toronto fans -- and even some media -- are fixated on a maybe-but-probably-not intentional knee-on-knee hit DeBrusk delivered to Kadri as he flew out of the Toronto penalty box at breakneck speed. The slow-motion replays, and subsequent conclusions we've jumped to faster than the collision itself, are why Kadri's actions are acceptable.

Instead of mentioning the fact that Kadri is a repeat (on repeat on repeat) offender -- and was handed a three-game ban for similarly reckless, sore-loser behavior in last year's first-round series with the Bruins -- we're being told that DeBrusk had it coming because he face-washed Kadri following their entanglement in the first period. As if face-washes and skirmishes don't happen after absolutely every whistle for two straight months of playoff hockey. You're either lucky or soft as sin if your face doesn't still reek of hockey glove two weeks after your playoff run ends.

But perhaps most laughable is the unfounded-yet-hardline belief that Kadri's cross-check falls on an officiating crew that failed to get a hold of this game before it was too late.

First of all, are we talking about a functioning adult here? Like, I'm not just lying to myself, right? Kadri is indeed an NHL veteran of 561 NHL games and 19 playoff games over four postseason runs in this league. I'm not imagining this.

So, absolutely nothing about playoff nastiness should be surprising to Kadri at this point in his career. Nor should he have been caught off guard by the B's decision to bring their hardhats to work after they straight-up said they'd do exactly that in Game 2 and backed it up with David Backes inserted in their lineup.

"Why are these flies attacking me?!" the slew-footing man covered in sugar and sweat cried out.

It was also abundantly clear that this crew was going to allow a solid level of nastiness from the jump. And it really wasn't until David Pastrnak jumped into Jake Muzzin that the referees did their part to slow things down from a physical standpoint. Given the personnel of each team, this approach obviously benefitted the Bruins more than it would the skill-loaded Maple Leafs, but it wasn't as if the Bruins were allowed to illegally steamroll the Maple Leafs on every shift.

Like the Leafs in Game 1, the Bruins decided to play to their strengths, which exposed the weaknesses of their opponent.

Even if we do want to focus on missed calls, though, let's focus on missed calls. (All, what, maybe two of them.) But let's not suddenly act like missed calls from a hit-friendly crew are some sort of justification for suddenly playing with the temperament of an overtired toddler and going vigilante on somebody's face.

That's just painfully idiotic, disingenuous, and is impossible to buy given the player at the center of this incident.

Kadri has a reputation. With four suspensions to his name, it's certainly earned. Like Brad Marchand, he's rightfully lost the benefit of the doubt with the NHL's Department of Player Safety. There's also no sense in even trying to deny the outright targeting of his cross-check on DeBrusk. I mean, the two were handed matching minors just two periods before that, and Kadri didn't even try to hide the fact that he was going for what the league would term 'a forceful blow' to DeBrusk's head. (It will get buried under the 'protecting a teammate' narrative, but it might very well be the most selfish penalty of the spring.)

And his latest blow-up, as well as the odd attempted justification and whataboutism of it all, dismisses the reality that there's plenty of other (and better) ways to settle scores and get your pound of flesh in the postseason.

Kadri actually accomplished one of them in the third period following his return from a career-threatening knee injury, too, when he scored Toronto's lone goal of a 4-1 loss. And Kadri accomplished another one in the losing effort when he absolutely crunched Matt Grzelcyk on a clean hit in the middle frame. But outside of the scoreboard and thunderous-but-clean checks, Kadri's ultimate solution would have been a decision to go up to DeBrusk (one NHL fight in his NHL career) and challenge him to drop the gloves. Given the heated nature of this game and the obvious score to settle between those two given their head-to-head conflicts since Game 1, I'm not sure DeBrusk would have declined such an invite.

These are all infinitely better choices than inarguably targeting a player's head with your stick -- it didn't even look like Kadri was trying to do anything besides make DeBrusk eat composite -- and repeatedly present themselves over the course of a seven-game series Kadri needs to be on the ice for if they're to topple Boston.

Instead, Kadri has probably robbed himself of such an opportunity by way of another selfish, brainless play (and ban).

That's nobody's fault but his own.

Ty Anderson is a writer and columnist for 985TheSportsHub.com. He has also been a voting member of the Boston Chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers' Association since 2013. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Yell at him on Twitter: @_TyAnderson.