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At the end of the second period in the Philadelphia Flyers' 1-0 Game 4 loss at the Buffalo Sabres, Mike Richards(notes) was battling for the puck near the Sabres bench when Patrick Kaleta(notes) of the Sabres came flying in for a hit. Richards defended himself by throwing up an elbow.

For that, he received a 5-minute major for elbowing, a call the Comcast SportsNet Philadelphia broadcasters disagreed with … oh, slightly:

The Sabres didn't score on their power play, and Richards was not ejected from the game. Richards said after the game that he didn't believe the call was justified and that referee Francois St. Laurent didn't offer him an explanation.

The Delaware County Times had this reaction from the Flyers on the play:

"I think (Richards) was just protecting himself becse you never know what Patrick Kaleta is capable of," Kris Versteeg(notes) said. "He is a dangerous player out there when it comes down to it. You never know if he's going to run you from behind or if he's going to hit you without the puck. Richie was just protecting himself, it's unfortunate that he had to go to the box for that long."

"It look like he (Richards) was getting run," Peter Laviolette said. "He's got his arm up. I don't think that's the intention of the five-minute (call). It was difficult to see. I think he just got his arm up and there was a collision along the boards. But I didn't see any intent in there."

This is the push-pull between the benefit of the doubt and the letter of the law. Was it in self-defense? Of course. Was it also an intentional elbow to the head of an opponent? Of course. So it's on the referee to give Richards the benefit, and chose not to; and Richards knows that whether it's an elbow or a stick or a fist used to ward off Kaleta, there's going to be a chance that the ref won't give it to him.

We're fine with the major penalty; we're not fine with the optics for the NHL when something like Chris Kunitz's blatant elbow gets two minutes and this gets five. Which, we imagine, will be a source of anger for Flyers fans, too.

Suspension? Hopefully not, because Richards doesn't deserve one. But it's the NHL we're talking about here; guess it all depends if Richards was in the "elbowing zone" or not.

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