BOSTON — The puck is black, the ice is white and, by the grace of all that is good, both are color-blind.
The game and its players are not to be blamed for what happened to P.K. Subban in a world in which 140 characters can unleash such a lack of character. The game is never the problem. Hockey is a game filled with passion and collision. Its players react with too much emotion sometimes. On the spur of the moment, players say and do things they later regret. Sometimes it's the flash of anger. Sometimes it's the drag of fatigue. Sometimes, in an instant, players make mistakes that hurt their teams.
Take Brad Marchand. With the Bruins ahead by a goal during the second period Saturday of what eventually would become a riveting come-from-behind 5-3 Boston playoff victory, The Little Ball of Hate became The Big Ball of Giveaway. At the end of his shift, Marchand had the puck in the neutral zone and instead of sending it deep and going for a line change, he tried to hold onto it. He was stripped. The Canadiens pressed and Mike Weaver ended up pounding a shot past Tuukka Rask from the right circle.
"Definitely should have dumped it in," Marchand said.
Some of it was Carey Price's goaltending, terrific saves on Jarome Iginla and Milan Lucic spring to mind. Some of it, however, was penalties by the Bruins, some from a lack of control and, yes, some from iffy calls. All added to a pair of power-play goals by Thomas Vanek and a 3-1 Montreal lead with 10 minutes left in the game. Both of Vanek's goals were tip-ins off point shots by Subban.
Through 110 minutes of this Eastern Conference semifinal, Subban's shot was the difference in this series.
Yet the color of Subban's skin was its story.
After Subban scored two goals, including the winner in double overtime in Game 1, he was subjected to ugliness. The "N-word" filled the unfiltered word of Twitter. Bruins fans? Drunks? Punks? Racists? How do we begin to quantify the scum?
The Toronto Star contacted a media monitoring company that tracked 17,000 tweets related to Subban and the "N-word," and determined that 300 to 400 negative ones led to a number of retweets and then a backlash of disgust. This was not the first time this happened with the Bruins. When Washington's Joel Ward scored a Game 7 goal to eliminate the Bruins in 2012, a string of racist tweets — including one tracked to an Eastern Connecticut student — followed.
"The racist, classless views expressed by an ignorant group of individuals following Thursday's game via digital media are in no way a reflection of anyone associated with the Bruins organization," team President Cam Neely said.
"Take a good, hard look at yourself," Lucic told reporters Friday. "I have to play against [Subban]. I would never say it and cross that line. Neither should they."
The quick and complete condemnation is a good thing. For this has been both a depressing and uplifting week in race relations in our sports nation.
We've got to be careful not to paint the entire city of Boston with a broad brush because of an ugly splash of tweets. We've got to be careful not to hark back to the ugliness of several decades ago and pretend that these tweets somehow stand for the views of a city or a fan base in the 21st century. They do not. This is a city where David Ortiz is the most popular athlete. This is a city where Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett were revered as the ultimate competitors.
We also shouldn't dismiss what has happened. It has grown easy, maybe too easy, to jump on Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling — Lord knows, I have — and think, OK, we nailed the culprit, and pretend everything is back to perfect. It isn't. Walking together as one, eliminating hatred and bias, is something we will not accomplish in one week. It must continue on the positive momentum of generations. This certainly was Subban's sense.
"It's completely unfair for anybody to point the finger at the organization or the fan base," Subban said in his first comments on the subject. "They have passionate fans here, a great fan base, and since I've been in the league it's been awesome. I've come to Boston many times, my family has come and it's been great."
"The funny thing is we get stronger as a league. You see how people come together and it's great. It's not just about me. The NHL has tons of players from different backgrounds and that's what makes this league so special."
Having said all that, Subban was booed every time he touched the puck Saturday. Of course, he got booed. This is a rivalry as intense as there is. Look, it's OK to "hate" Subban as a Bruins fan, just as it's OK to "hate" Marchand as a Montreal fan. That's sports hate, not real hate. Subban will never win the Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship. Both teams have players who love to agitate and irritate, and Subban and Marchand are Exhibits A and B.
The crazy part about all this is that Subban's brother Malcolm is a goalie in the Bruins organization and in a half-dozen years his name could be chanted and he could be as big a hero as Tuukka Rask.
"Obviously, as a parent you don't want to see things like that, but good always comes from bad," Subban's father, Karl, told the Toronto Star. "Hockey gets the best out of us, and sometimes the worst out of others."
The story of this day was how the Bruins regained their composure and rattled off four goals in the final 9:04, two assisted by the redeemed Marchand. This is a team that was behind three goals to Toronto with 11 minutes remaining in Game 7 last year and still won. They are a team that ultimately can keep its poise even through officiating, crazy bounces and, yes, Subban. Maybe I'm too much of an optimist. Maybe I put too much faith in human nature, but I'd like to believe that some of what was tweeted after Game 1 was by young, foolish fans angered by a sudden loss and lashing out in a moronic moment. And that if they were forced to be identified in public, they would be horrified by their actions.
Nothing, of course, is easy with Subban. Early in the third period, Shawn Thornton tried to level a hard body check on him. As Subban shot the puck into his offensive zone, he sensed the big forward coming and, unbalanced, appeared to lower his body. Ducking isn't a popular move in the NHL. It can lead to injuries. But it also is unfair to say he low-bridged Thornton. Thornton, who initially looked as if he hurt his right knee badly, was able to return midway to a standing ovation. He screamed for his team to score one goal every five minutes. They did better than that.
"I don't like people ducking," Thornton said. "I think [Marchand] got about five games for it once. [Subban] apologized afterward, so there's that. I think it's a dangerous play. But it's the playoffs. It's hockey. I'm fine. So we're OK."
"I don't know what happened," Subban said. "I just tried to shoot the puck around the zone and I sort of lost my footing there. Obviously, you don't want to see anybody go off hurt. I was happy to see he came back."
To be fair to Subban, Marchand's low-bridge on Sami Solo a few years ago was way worse. But this is the Canadiens and Bruins. Everything is going to be blown out of proportion. People just have to remember the power and potential for danger of those 140 characters. If you're a racist, God help you. If you're a fanatic, be smart enough to stay away from Twitter during overtime in the playoffs.