Kukla's Korner Hockey
by Paul on 05/26/14 at 02:38 PM ET
By Tom Murray,
I know it took place way back in the early stages of Game 3 between the Rangers and Canadiens.
I also know the repercussions of the incident may have been rendered moot because the Rangers won Game 4 on Sunday night and with a 3-1 lead in the series are on the verge of advancing to the final round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since they won it all exactly 20 years ago.
But, sorry gang, I still can’t comprehend yet another laughably toothless verdict that was handed down by the NHL to the Canadiens Brandon Prust for what, in the exact words of the Department of Player Safety, was described as a “late, violent hit to Rangers forward Derek Stepan, causing an injury.” [Specifically, a broken jaw, which the league was aware of by the time it rendered its decision and which has sidelined Stepan indefinitely.]
Two games, for a hit, again quoting directly here, that was delivered “well past the point when a player should have to remain on guard for an opponent finishing a check.”
Two games, for a hit by Prust, who “drives his left shoulder up and into Stepan’s chest and jaw well after he releases the puck.”
Two games, despite the fact “Prust is in complete control of this play” and “the onus is entirely on Prust to avoid contact completely.”
The words are all there, as they always are. And so is the visual evidence, in another one of those clinically efficient videos displayed by the NHL, one minute and 48 seconds of irrefutable, multi-angled, slo-mo dissection of precisely the kind of hit the league suits of discipline vow—with straight faces and without winking—they really, truly do want to eliminate.
But when it comes to moving beyond the words and taking action, demonstrating they really are serious about eliminating these kind of hits from the game, here’s the sad truth: It’s the last thing in the world they want to do.
So in a way, this ridiculous decision shouldn’t really surprise us at all. It’s simply bizarre business as usual.
All of that said, there is no excuse whatsoever for the way the officiating crew handled the situation that night. Kevin Pollock and Marc Joannette were the referees. Steve Driscoll and Steve Miller were the linesmen.
Pollock saw the hit—a fact that was confirmed by the reporting of Larry Brooks of the New York Post.
“I was told on the ice it was a clean hit,” Rangers forward Brad Richards told Brooks after the game.
Which suggests Pollock et al—instead of immediately huddling and at least attempting to get the call on the ice right—opted to cover their collective butts and act like late-arriving cops at a crime scene on one of those old TV shows: “Nothing to see here, folks, move along now.”
If that’s not the height of incompetence, what is?
It also makes Canadiens coach Michel Therrien look a tad silly too, doesn’t it? He too defined it as a good hit, “a hockey hit.”
Yeah, right Michel. He of course is the same guy who had a different defintion on three consecutive days for the collision between his goaltender Carey Price and Rangers forward Chris Kreider: First it was an “accidental” occurrence, then it was “accidentally on purpose” and then “reckless.”
The next time Kreider heads to the net, Therrien will probably demand he be arrested.
Finally, a few words on the overtime winner by the Rangers Marty St. Louis in Game 4. It was a great shot that only a player with incredible skill and precision can make in that moment with that kind of pressure and spotlight on him.
The fact is Canadiens goalie Dustin Tokarski was in terrible position, down low, way back in his bet, surrendering a lot of room—at least for a sharpshooter like Marty—high and on the short side.
At the risk of sounding like a fuddy-duddy from the dark ages, if Tokarski simply moves out to the top of his crease and elevates minimally, taking away that space, Marty has nowhere to go.
The irony, of course, is that virtually no goalies play the traditional angles in that fashion anymore. They are magnificently athletic, all proficient at the butterfly, taking away the low part of the net and daring shooters to go high and take what is now considered a perfect shot.
On Sunday night, St. Louis made that “perfect” shot. But somewhere Ken Dryden, Terry Sawchuk and maybe even Marty Brodeur are thinking, I woulda had that one.
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Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
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