Bruins hope Horton returns to award jacket

BOSTON – It was not supposed to be a mournful symbol. Andrew Ference(notes) bought the late-'80s Boston Bruins jacket for about 35 bucks on eBay because he thought he would get a kitschy kick from wearing it around the dressing room. But soon it became a way to honor – and humble – the hero of each victory. The Masters has its beautiful green jacket, passed from one winner to the next. The Bruins have their awesomely ugly, black and gold … thing.

But there it was Monday night after Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, hanging under the nameplate of Nathan Horton(notes) after an 8-1 victory over the Vancouver Canucks. Horton had it for scoring the winner in the Bruins' last victory, Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final, but he couldn't pass it on now. He was in the hospital. Coach Claude Julien talked to the players about what they should do in his absence.

"Obviously it's something that we usually do for fun," Ference said Tuesday. "It's a pretty lighthearted thing. So he earned it last game, and so he actually was supposed to give it away last night to whoever earned it, but it's not right for us (to give it away for him). It's his job to give it away. I think it was the right thing to leave it with him until he can come back and hand it out next time."

Horton will not be back on the ice this season. The Bruins announced that he had suffered a "severe concussion" and would miss the rest of this series after taking a brutal hit in the first period.

Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome(notes) won't be back, either. He received a four-game suspension for the incident. But even though that's four times longer than any other Cup final suspension in recent history, even though it means both players will miss the rest of the series, that doesn't necessarily mean the NHL has set a new standard and doesn't necessarily equal an eye for an eye.

A new standard? NHL senior vice-president of hockey operations Mike Murphy(notes), in charge of supplemental discipline for this series, said the league had gotten more serious about punishing these types of hits. But he also said the standard used here was his and his alone. The league plans to start with a clean slate next season when Brendan Shanahan(notes) takes over supplemental discipline as the new vice-president of player safety and hockey operations.

"I made the call," Murphy said. "It stands on its own."

An eye for an eye? Rome is a depth defenseman. The Canucks can replace him with Keith Ballard(notes) or Chris Tanev(notes). Horton is a first-line right winger who entered Monday night as the Bruins' second-leading scorer, who has not just one but two Game 7 game-winning goals in these playoffs. The Bruins can't really replace him. Back in goes Tyler Seguin(notes), who was the second overall pick in last year's draft, but is only 19 years old.

"Well, the NHL did its job," Ference said. "They punished the player that made the hit, and that's all you can really do. Obviously it's not even-up when you look at the players' impact on a team, but what can you do?"

Not much. The NHL actually might have done the Bruins more harm than good. The length of the suspension allows Vancouver to turn around and play the victim.

Rome deserved to be suspended, and it seemed likely he would get a game or two. The hit was late. Horton was hurt, and like it or not, the league takes that into account. But the hit did not violate Rule 48, instituted last year to ban blindside hits to the head, because Rome put his left shoulder into Horton's head while Horton's shoulders were square. Murphy said the hit would have been legal had it been a split-second earlier. He did not mention that Rome rose into the hit and left his feet on the follow through, so that apparently was not a factor.

The last three Cup final suspensions were for only one game. Playoff games are weighed more heavily than regular-season games, though there is no specific formula. So why four games? Why go so much farther than ever before now, in the middle of the most important series of the season? Murphy said he made his decision based on his experience and conversations with others, fully aware of the context of the Cup final.

"My number is four," he said. "It is what it is."

The Canucks supported Rome even more strongly after that than they did in the emotional aftermath Monday night. Captain Henrik Sedin(notes) said he was "surprised" and had to "totally disagree" with the suspension, and other players echoed him. Sedin went as far as to call it a "good hit." He said Rome was "devastated."

Rome released a statement in which he wished Horton a "quick and full recovery" and said he tried to play the game "honestly and with integrity." Coach Alain Vigneault said Rome did not speak to reporters because he was too emotional to do so. He had worked his whole life to play for the Cup and lost the privilege in a split-second.

Vigneault railed against hits the Canucks had taken that did not result in suspensions – including one that concussed Rome last round – and said confusion had become part of the players' vocabulary.

"In my opinion, it's not the right call," Vigneault said. "We're real disappointed the player got hurt, but it was a north-south hit. It was a little bit late, but anybody that's played this game knows that you have to make a decision in a fraction of a second. He's engaged in the hit. I don't know how the league could come up with that decision, really."

Really, the only good news Tuesday was that Horton had gone home from the hospital. Teammates hadn't been allowed to see him Monday night, and Shawn Thornton(notes) said he hadn't received a reply to a text message. But Milan Lucic(notes) said Horton had texted him to say he was OK, and Ference held out hope that Horton, even if he couldn't play, would be able to give the ceremonial jacket to someone else after another big victory.

"I'm sure he'll be back around the room next game," Ference said.