In every playoff series, someone on the opposing team gets under the skin of players, coaches and fans. It’s like clockwork, the predictable result of facing off against the same foe multiple times in a row.
Last year for the Avalanche, it was P.K. Subban; the Predators defenseman rubbed everyone the wrong way during Nashville’s series win over Colorado thanks to his edgy style of play. Fast forward 12 months and Avs fans have a new bad guy to boo and heckle.
When the Western Conference Semifinals move to Pepsi Center for Game 3 on Tuesday night, expect Brent Burns to hear plenty of razzing from the Colorado crowd. Through the first two games of the series, he’s quickly emerged as the biggest thorn in the Avalanche’s side.
In part, the animosity dates back to the regular season, where Burns tormented the Avs with three goals and four assists during a trio of games. But during the first two match-ups between Colorado and San Jose in the playoffs, Burns has been even more dynamic.
In the Sharks win in Game 1, the league’s highest-scoring defenseman racked up a goal and three assists. He followed that up with a pair of goals, as well as another assist, in the Avalanche’s 4-3 win in Game 2.
Seven points in two games, even from a guy as prolific as Burns, is eye-popping. But none of those moments are the real reason why the defenseman will earn the wrath of Avs fans; the true bitterness stems from a hit he delivered late in Game 2.
With a little more than 1:00 to play in the third period, Colorado’s Matt Calvert had the puck in front of the Avs net and was skating up ice, looking to clear the zone and attack San Jose’s empty net. He did all of those things, but he paid the price in the process.
Just as Calvert passed ahead to Nathan MacKinnon, setting up what would ultimately turn into the game-winning goal, he was crushed by Burns at the blue line. It was a highlight-reel moment, one that garnered more attention than any of the game’s seven goals.
Here’s one of the many tweets that immediately popped up on Twitter:
Matt Calvert. Meet Brent Burns. pic.twitter.com/6h53pUziqu
— STAT GUY WIT (@StatGuyWit) April 29, 2019
It was a clean hit, at least according to the rulebook, but some are crying foul. The play felt a bit excessive, especially considering the size difference between the two players.
Calvert checks in at 5-foot-11 and 186 pounds. Burns is 6-foot-5 and 230. A bit of a mismatch, to put it mildly.
The pick-on-someone-your-own-size angle will certainly fuel the disdain at Pepsi Center on Tuesday and Thursday. So too will the way Burns tends to light up the scoreboard, forcing NBC Sports Network to show shot after shot of his bearded mug hollering in celebration.
It all adds up to drive Avalanche fans crazy, making Brent Burns public enemy No. 1 in Colorado. With a suitable villain in place, an already-interesting series will be even more amped up.
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