SUNRISE — When it comes to fighting in the NHL, players hold themselves to a certain standard, a code of unwritten rules.
In its most basic form, players are responsible for their actions.
NHL players remember.
A violation of The Code calls for retribution.
If a victimized player is not a scrapper, it is OK for another to take over.
When Wayne Gretzky was in his prime, he went untouched because everybody knew that a cheap shot on Gretzky meant you had to answer to his bodyguard.
First, it was Dave Semenko in Edmonton; later, the infamous Marty McSorley in Los Angeles.
Few wanted any part of those two.
Plus, who wanted to hit Wayne Gretzky?
Earlier this month, Arizona’s Jason Zucker boarded Nick Cousins.
Gus Forsling, not known as a fighter, immediately jumped Zucker in defense of his downed teammate.
Ryan Lomberg, one of Florida’s toughs, took note.
Cousins is a big, strong guy and is no angel.
In this case, he was victimized and could not respond due to a concussion, which has kept him out of action ever since.
Zucker earned a three-game suspension for the incident.
Wednesday, the Panthers and Coyotes met up again.
NHL players do not forget.
During warmups, there was a meeting at center ice among players from both teams.
In the NHL, players never fraternize during warmups, so this meeting was more than a discussion about the stock market.
Lomberg was face-to-face with Liam O’Brien.
The debate included Zucker and Florida’s Jonah Gadjovich and Matthew Tkachuk.
Former Florida defenseman Josh Brown also represented the Coyotes.
You knew what was coming next if you have been watching hockey long enough.
Suspicions were confirmed when coach Paul Maurice had Lomberg, a fourth-line winger, take the opening faceoff against Jack McBain.
Lomberg had taken all of nine faceoffs this season.
Referee Wes McCauley dropped the puck but it hit the ice untouched.
McBain and Lomberg dropped the gloves and went at it as five seconds ran off the clock.
Edge to McBain, but Lomberg went away smiling as usual.
Round Two came two seconds later when Gadjovich and O’Brien put up their dukes.
Seven seconds into the game and we had twenty minutes in penalties.
Ironically, Zucker, who was the cause of all of this, was not even on the ice when this commotion took place.
When Tkachuk was asked postgame what the discussion at center ice was all about, he laughingly said, “I’m not telling you.”
Keeping it in-house is consistent with The Code.
“Stuff like that happens,” Tkachuk continued after some good-natured prodding.
“It’s just how the games kind of went from last game and trickled over into this one. We’re here to stick up for each and every one of our teammates. We’re brothers in here.”
In discussing the pre-game meeting, Gadjovic said: “Just a lot of words. A lot of nice words that I probably shouldn’t repeat. I don’t know. Sometimes stuff like that happens, and we’re here to answer the bell.”
When specifically asked if the pre-game discussion concerned the hit on Cousins, Gadjovic said, “It could have. Maybe. Keep that between us, but yeah.”
The game continued, and the Panthers took apart a sluggish Coyotes team that had just come off two straight victories.
The pleasantries were not over.
At 16:27 of the third period, with the outcome decided, the combatants took to the dance floor again for a lot of pushing and shoving.
Lomberg tried to get Zucker to drop the gloves, but all that happened was a bunch of double-minors for roughing.
Zucker also took a face wash from Lomberg, which is the ultimate act of disrespect for an opponent.
The Arizona dressing room was mum about the incident other than coach André Tourigny referring to the fights as a “distraction.”
“If that would have happened in the game before against Pittsburgh,” Tourigny said, “that would not have changed a thing for us. Tonight, our focus was not to win.”
The Code implies that once the scores are settled, there is no further attempt at retribution. When it comes to the Panthers and Coyotes, this one is over.
The two teams do not play again, anyway.
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FLORIDA PANTHERS @ PITTSBURGH PENGUINS
- When: Friday, 7 p.m.
- Where: PPG Arena, Pittsburgh
- TV/Streaming: Bally Sports Florida; ESPN+
- Radio: WQAM 560-AM; WBZT 1230-AM (Palm Beach); WCTH 100.3-FM (Florida Keys); SiriusXM
- Panthers Radio Streaming: SiriusXM 932, NHL app
- Season Series (Panthers Lead 1-0) — At Florida: Panthers 3, Penguins 1 (Dec. 8). At Pittsburgh: Friday; Feb. 14.
- Last Season: Penguins won 2-1
- All-time Regular Season Series: Penguins lead 56-37-7, 4 ties
- Up Next for the Panthers: Saturday at New York Islanders, 7 p.m.