A horrifying hit took center stage on a busy night in the NHL Tuesday.
The Boston-Montreal rivalry heated up with a high-scoring, fight-filled affair earlier this season. While Tuesday's game was relatively tame, both in terms of goals scored and fights happening, there was an awful incident towards the end of the second period that will lead to plenty of discussion, debate, yelling, and probably a suspension for one of the league's more visible players.
Bruins captain Zdeno Chara is likely going to be suspended after this hit on Montreal forward Max Pacioretty (video from NHL.com via Puck Daddy).
Chara received a five-minute major for interference and a game misconduct, which simply postponed his inevitable fight for the teams' next meeting, which is Mar. 24 in Boston.
Pacioretty was stretchered off the ice, but was said to have movement of his extremities when he left the arena. That's good, though we don't know the extent of any injuries he may have suffered.
In the meantime, the NHL has a tough decision to make. Boston's next game is Thursday against Buffalo, and you can bet on the big defenseman not being eligible to play.
Let's get something out of the way. Only an idiot would think Zdeno Chara was trying to send Max Pacioretty to the hospital. I know a few people out there -- generally not fans of the Boston Bruins -- probably think Chara is a dirty player, one who takes the occasional liberties and sometimes hits guys in the head.
Of course, Chara is a physical player, which by definition means he will sometimes take liberties with guys. He's almost always the biggest guy on the ice, so he's almost always hitting players who are smaller. And when you're tall with long arms and bigger than everyone else, you have to be ultra-careful at all times to make sure you aren't hitting guys high, using your elbows, or looking like a dirty player.
Frankly, I think given everything, Chara does a pretty damn good job of being effective and physical without constantly crossing the line or even really making it look like he does.
He wasn't trying to knock Pacioretty out. He was trying to knock him out of the play. That simple.
However, Chara should (and probably will) be held responsible for the end result.
If you look at how the game of hockey rules on hits these days, it typically doesn't matter if a player puts himself in a vulnerable position. It matters that the player is in a vulnerable position. Here is an example of a hit where the aggressor was not in any way trying to injure the player he hit, and had virtually no control over the final circumstances.
Brad Malone made no attempt to break Jesse Martin's neck. He was trying to finish his check, but Martin lost the puck and put his head down to find it. Combine those two things, and you have a near-tragic outcome that was awful for everyone.
Honestly, this is probably a poor example, because you could argue that if either of these two hits was malicious in any way, it was Chara's.
As noted by Michael Russo, it was a "reckless, needless hit, no puck ... I don't buy he didn't know where he was."
Chara might not have known he was that close to the partition/turnbuckle/whatever you want to call it, but part of his duty as an aggressive player is to 1) know who/what he is hitting, and 2) know where he is hitting that player.
Even if he can successfully argue that he had no idea the partition/turnbuckle that is in every NHL arena in the same spot happened to be near where he was hitting Pacioretty, the league will tell him it's his duty to have at least a basic understanding of what will happen upon contact with an opposing player.
To be blunt, this understanding is what separates players like Zdeno Chara from players like Trevor Gillies. Chara avoids suspensions for his hits because he typically avoids the kind of hit he threw Tuesday. Gillies can't avoid suspensions because he's not a hockey player and has no inkling of an understanding of player safety.
If you have a guy whose head is down and back is to the boards, you have to understand that hitting that player could send him head-first into the boards. That might have been a cool visual in 1991, but it doesn't work anymore.
If you don't have that understanding, you either avoid making the hit or prepare to pay the price for the hit. And pray you don't break someone's neck in the process.
I'm not going to call Chara a dirty player, because I don't believe he is. But he's smarter than he showed Tuesday, and the league will make sure he understands that going forward.