We've seen a lot of stretchers during the first two months of the NHL season. (I'm going go out on a limb and say too many, since my ideal number of players helped off the ice by medical personnel is, on average, roughly zero.)
On Thursday, in yet another scary scene, Boston Bruins' defender Johnny Boychuk became the latest NHLer to be helped off the ice after a nasty hit. Checked from behind by Max Pacioretty of the rival Montreal Canadiens, Boychuk went into the wall awkwardly, and left the game on his back:
The stretcher is always a bad sign, but as you can see, Boychuk was conscious and moving his limbs, which is a good one. Here's hoping he's okay.
Of course, the question, as with just about any hit involving a stretcher, is whether the hitter deserves any supplemental discipline. Pacioretty was given a two-minute minor for boarding. Will that be all?
I believe so. The optics aren't good here, but I'm not sure Pacioretty did anything suspendable. Heck, I'm not sure he even deserved a penalty. It's an unfortunate hit, to be certain, but it doesn't look like the result of a reckless play -- it looks like the result of an awkward play.
This is a clean hit at the point of contact. Shoulder to shoulder. But it looks like Boychuk catches or loses an edge as he attempts a turn to follow the puck behind the net. If he doesn't make the sudden attempt to change direction, I'd say Pacioretty rubs him out cleanly. Instead, he goes face-first into the boards. It will be interesting to see if the Department agrees.
And, considering the two teams involved, not to mention the player, it will be interesting to see the reaction on both sides. Pacioretty was, as you might recall, involved in another pretty nasty hit a few years back, but he was the victim, driven into the partition by Zdeno Chara. When the NHL deemed that an unfortunate accident, handing Chara no suspension or fine, Canadiens' fans were livid.
That leads us to the real question: Will a similar ruling here imbue them, or Bruins fans, who just lost a pretty important defender to injury, with a new level of fan empathy? Is this where the rivalry devolves into mutual understanding?
Yeah, probably not.
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