If you thought the season series between the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens couldn’t get any more dramatic, you were wrong!
On Tuesday night the Habs skated to a 4-1 win at the Bell Centre in Montreal, the first game between the two clubs since a wild 8-6 win for the Bruins that featured a ton of fights and a total of 182 penalty minutes. Much like their last two meetings though, the defining moment of this one wasn’t a big save or a highlight reel goal – this time around it was a young Canadiens forward leaving the ice on a stretcher after a questionable hit.
With about 15 seconds to go in the second period of what was then a 4-0 game, Max Pacioretty chipped the puck down the boards in front of the Boston bench and was rubbed out by defenseman Zdeno Chara. The late hit sent Pacioretty face first into the glass partition between the benches, knocking him out cold.
It was the end of the night for both players, with Pacioretty taken to a local hospital and Chara handed five and a game for interference. How long Pacioretty will be out of the lineup remains to be seen, but assuming he’s got a concussion it’ll probably be at least a couple of weeks.
After the game Chara was apologetic, telling reporters that he didn’t mean to do what he did (via NHL.com):
"I knew we were somewhere close to our bench but obviously that wasn't my intention to push him to the post. Like I said, it's very unfortunate and in that situation with everything you have to think fast. You're not planning to do that or that's not my style to hurt somebody. I always play hard and play physical but I never try to hurt anybody so I'm hoping he's OK."
Now, I don’t think Chara is a dirty player and I don’t think he meant to send Pacioretty to the hospital, but I am a bit skeptical about this incident. First of all, these two players have a bit of history stemming back to a game in early January where Pacioretty clearly got under Big Z’s skin. Secondly, it’s a 4-0 game and it’s a fairly harmless play by the Montreal forward with about 20 ticks left on the clock…Was it really necessary?
Those details aside, there is one other thing that really bothers me about this hit – if you watch the video one more time, the replay shown at the 1:38 mark makes it look like Chara is actually directing Pacioretty right into that padded post. I know things happen very quickly out on the ice, but when I saw that replay I cringed.
Montreal goalie Carey Price offered up his opinion on the hit, saying he doesn’t buy the excuse that the Bruins captain didn’t know where he was on the ice (via ESPN):
"It looked like [Pacioretty] chipped the puck in, took two or three or four strides and got his head pushed into the turnbuckle. Everybody's aware of what's what out there. I don't care what anybody says, you're aware of your surroundings. It's your job out there to know what's where. But the game does happen fast. He's a big guy, he's a big physical presence, and he can hurt somebody if somebody's not paying attention.”
I guess the question now is, should Chara be suspended for the hit?
It’s not an easy one to answer and I’m sure they’ll be thinking long and hard about it over at league headquarters, but here are some things to consider: On one hand, the consensus seems to be that Chara didn’t initiate that play hoping to really hurt Pacioretty. At the same time though, as TSN's Bob McKenzie points out, Chara made an illegal play that resulted in an injury and therefore he is at fault.
If the NHL wakes me up this afternoon (yeah, I said afternoon) to ask for my opinion about whether or not they should suspend Chara, I think I’ll tell them that they should. Even if the incident was completely unintentional, it still happened because of a late hit in a dangerous location. The fact that it was 4-0 for the other team at the time and the victim was a player Chara had beef with in the recent past also has me leaning towards suspension.
I’ll say at least one game, but fewer than five.
What do you think: Should the NHL dole out a suspension or has the appropriate punishment already been handed out?