TORONTO - As a former teammate of Sean Avery, Maple Leafs forward Freddie Sjostrom knows better than most how the Rangers pest can get inside an opponent’s head.
So how to stop it?
“Easier said than done,” Sjostrom said Tuesday as the Leafs prepared for what could be a nasty Round 2 versus New York on Thursday night at the Air Canada Centre.
Avery, already despised by Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf and others, added a new enemy last Friday on Broadway. Avery’s double chop of Toronto defenceman Mike Komisarek in the third period of the Leafs 4-3 overtime win was the latest flash point for anger.
“He’s a talented player, that’s for sure and he has the ability to upset whoever he plays against,” said Sjostrom, who was a teammate with Avery in New York for one and a half seasons. “Sometimes it can be really good, sometimes it will work against you.
“Sometimes he skates on a very thin line. He’ll get guys so riled up and pissed off that they can’t play. Sometimes he goes over that line and ruins it for his team.”
The Maple Leafs saw Avery tread that line perilously on Friday.
When he was penalized for the hack on Komisarek, Toronto had a two-man advantage. They couldn’t score, however, and when Avery came out of the box, he set up Brian Boyle’s game-tying goal.
“Obviously you can’t stay away from him completely,” Sjostrom said. “I played with him so I kind of know what his tricks are so I’m not going to get sucked in that easily.
“But sometimes in the heat of the moment, there’s a lot of testosterone on the ice and you just get angry. I think everybody knows what he’s doing — it’s no secret. Even if you say it, though, sometimes it’s hard to stick to it in the heat of the game.”
Avery promises to be a central character in Thursday’s return match with the Leafs, one that could be full of emotion. Remember Leafs forward Colby Armstrong took out Rangers sniper Marian Gaborik with a hit into the boards on Friday.
But Avery, who once said he doesn’t like coming to Toronto “because I don’t enjoy hockey-obsessed Canadians” will be public enemy No. 1 — again.