NHL has awkward decision to make after Zdeno Chara’s wicked hit on Max Pacioretty

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By now you’ve seen and heard about the terrifying incident in last night’s Bruins-Canadiens game that saw Bruins captain Zdeno Chara wipe out Montreal’s Max Pacioretty with a hit along the boards that saw Pacioretty slam his head into the stanchion separating the the benches.

Pacioretty was removed from the ice on a stretcher after lying motionless on the ice for minutes and taken to the hospital for observation. According to the Canadiens, Pacioretty is conscious and moving his arms and legs. Chara was kicked out of the game and given a five-minute major for interference for the hit.

Chara spoke with the media afterward to explain his role in this ugly incident and CSNNE’s Joe Haggerty notes from Chara that he didn’t have any intention of hurting Pacioretty on the play.

“It wasn’t my intention to push him into the post. It’s very unfortunate. In that situation things are moving fast and I’m not planning to do that. It’s not my style to hurt somebody. I always play hard and I play physical. But I never try to hurt anybody. I’m hoping he’s okay.”

Just moments before that, however, in Chara’s efforts to try and explain how he saw the play, Canadiens blog All Habs has audio from Chara in which his explanation of how things went down doesn’t totally jive with how the play appeared on video. Keep in mind this quote comes just before he made the above statement.

“As the puck went by I was riding him out and it was very unfortunate that at the same time I pushed him a little bit he kind of leaned and jumped a little bit and hit the glass extension. So it’s very unfortunate…. I know we were somewhere close to our bench but obviously it wasn’t my intention to put him into the post.”

Chara is wrong about what he thinks Pacioretty did on the play. You can see the video in our post from last night.

In this explanation from Chara and in the repeated viewing of the video is where Mike Murphy’s job in deciding whether or not to hand out punishment for Chara becomes very tricky. Murphy gets the unfortunate job of doing this because Colin Campbell must recuse himself from matters involving the Bruins thanks to his son Greg playing for them.

What Murphy has to decide is if Chara had the intention of hurting Pacioretty. Given how Chara sounds in his explanation and his history of not consistently running afoul of the rules of the game, we’re sure that he’s sorry for how injured Pacioretty was on the play. After all, seeing a fellow player get so graphically injured is tough for anyone that makes a living playing hockey to watch because someday it could be them in that position.

What makes this awkward is that Chara and Pacioretty have a history dating back to their game on January 8 that saw Pacioretty score the game-winning goal in overtime and then get into a scuffle with Chara after that when Chara felt wronged by Pacioretty for a slight shove from behind while celebrating the goal. Chara went ballistic trying to get after Pacioretty before the scene calmed down.

Players remember these sorts of things, and when watching that play from last night’s game unfold again and again on video it sticks out in your mind. Call me a cynic if you wish but when Chara was racing after that puck with Pacioretty and riding him along the boards it’s tough for me to think that Chara didn’t know full well what he wanted to do there.

I’m not saying that Chara intended to have Pacioretty’s head slam into that stanchion in such a horrifying manner, but we’ve seen hits a thousand times where players get hit and rode along the rail like that and get crunched. Nine times out of ten it’s a body blow that knocks the wind out of the guy and they learn a very hard lesson. Last night was that one time where something goes wrong enough and the end result is a player going to the hospital.

Given the location of the play, the familiarity of the surroundings, and that nagging history it’s difficult for me to accept that Chara handled that play completely accidentally. He wanted Pacioretty to take a hard hit but not for a second do I believe he wanted him to end up unconscious on the ice with a horrifying blow to the head.

Does that make the situation better? No, it’s ugly all around no matter what kind of spin you want to put on it. The hit was away from the puck, it was late, and it was most certainly needless. Those kinds of questionable hits happen all over the ice in heated rivalry games like this. This time around, however, everything went wrong.

It’s wrong for Pacioretty because he had his health put in danger during the heat of battle. It’s wrong for Chara because he’s a mostly clean player that plays a very physical game and he’s a team captain that should know better. It’s wrong for the league now because they’re put in the unenviable position of trying to decide whether or not there was evil in the heart of Zdeno Chara.

The league is most certainly going to make someone mad as Bruins fans say it’s just an unlucky play while Habs fans want Chara’s head on a pike to serve as an example to the rest of the league. TSN’s Bob McKenzie says that the league’s best way of handling this is to play the role of King Solomon and split the difference somehow. With the league’s new dedication to protecting players hit in the head, their ruling on this one will be fascinating to see.

Chara’s at fault here for being reckless and whether he meant to get Pacioretty roughed up or not, he’s got a responsibility to adhere to as a player. You can play hard and physical without putting another player in danger like that and that’s something the league has to recognize here.

Video: Drew Doughty (mostly) avoids massive Matthew Tkachuk hit

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Hockey is such a fast sport that it’s probably not so easy to make someone your “target.” Instead, a big hit often comes down to the right combination of circumstance and timing.

Still, there’s no denying that Matthew Tkachuk is gunning for Drew Doughty (and the Kings are gunning for Tkachuk) on Wednesday.

Doughty isn’t oblivious to that notion, either, as you can see him avoid what looked like a pretty terrifying hit above.

We’ve already covered the early violence in this game, and it’s quite possible that there will be more carnage going forward. Stay tuned.

Blackhawks bolster Central lead, shine harsh light on Penguins’ struggles

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Blame it on injuries if you want, or emphasize the Chicago Blackhawks’ overall hot finish to the season. Either way, Chicago scorched the Pittsburgh Penguins by a score of 5-1, a contest that felt more or less over by the time the first period ended 4-0 in the Blackhawks’ favor.

The Blackhawks scored by committee on Wednesday, with Artemi Panarin (goal, assist) and Patrick Kane (two assists) being the headliners. Meanwhile, former Penguin Marian Hossa has quietly climbed to 25 goals on the season.

Meanwhile, the Penguins limped through this one and have now lost four consecutive games.

With this result, the Blackhawks look like close to a lock to win the Central Division title. Meanwhile, the Metro crown is virtually unthinkable for Pittsburgh, and the Penguins might also need to accept the likelihood that they may not enjoy home-ice advantage in the first round.

They’d probably accept that more easily if they can get healthier and get back on track. Wednesday was a little worrisome in those regards.

Video: An early taste of the Tkachuk-inspired violence in Kings vs. Flames

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BREAKING: the Los Angeles Kings really don’t appreciate Calgary Flames rookie-pest-forward Matthew Tkachuk thanks to that elbow on Drew Doughty (and the fallout from all … that).

Tkachuk responded by critiquing Doughty for “complaining to the media,” so there was testiness from the start.

There was jawing before the game. Then Jake Muzzin rebuked Tkachuk’s kind offer for a fight. Finally, Keith’s son dropped the gloves with Brayden McNabb:

It wasn’t the only bout of the opening frame, and there could be more blood to come beyond this Jarome IginlaDeryk Engelland feud:

Players from both teams better keep their heads up (and on a swivel) tonight. The Flames have to hope that this doesn’t result in injuries, judging from what happened to Johnny Gaudreau.

Avalanche sign Toews-like first-rounder Tyson Jost

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Things have been pretty bleak for the Colorado Avalanche this season, but at least they can look to a high pick in the next draft … and maybe dream about how their top pick from 2016 may pan out.

The Avs signed Tyson Jost, the 10th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, to an entry-level contract on Wednesday. Colorado notes that he’ll jump right into some NHL action to close out this season.

It’s a nice sneak preview, as NHL insider Bob McKenzie noted on an NBCSN appearance (see above) that doing so will not burn the first year of Jost’s entry-level contract. Nice.

Even nicer? McKenzie also compares Jost favorably to … (drum-roll, though the headline spoiled it) Jonathan Toews.

Most obviously, the two both starred at the University of North Dakota. For the sake of fun, here are their numbers in their final years in the NCAA:

Jost: 16 goals, 35 points in 33 games, +17 rating (2016-17)
Toews: 18 goals, 46 points in 34 games (2006-07)

Naturally, Toews enthusiasts in particular will tell you that points aren’t everything … but maybe there are some shades of the two-way Blackhawks center there?

The Hockey News’ Ryan Kennedy raved that Jost has “man-strength already” back around the 2016 NHL Draft, as you can see in this profile.

“Jost oozes confidence and already looks like NHL captain material for the future.”

Hey, that does sound at least somewhat Toews-like, doesn’t it?

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In other signing news, the Buffalo News’ Mike Harrington reports that the Buffalo Sabres signed UMass-Lowell’s CJ Smith. More on that below.