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Big Zeke’s Big Break

Posted By Matt Preston On Mar 9 2011 @ 11:29 pm In Boston Bruins | No Comments

It has been over 24 hours now since Bruins captain Zdeno Chara launched Montreal’s Max Pacioretty head first into the stanchion that separates the players benches in the second period of a 4-1 Canadiens win over the Bruins at the Belle Center. The dust has settled, emotions have calmed and the fate of both players has been determined. What is being classified as a severe concussion and a fracture of the fourth cervical vertebrae for Pacioretty and no more than the five-minute major for interference and game misconduct that was assessed on the ice for Chara.

Both teams’ camps should be thanking their lucky stars things did not turn out a whole lot worse.

I am not a guy who gets squeamish about big hits in hockey. I’m not going argue fighting needs to be banned and clamor that violence needs to be taken out of the game. I consider myself to be quite understanding when it comes to the more physical play and the sometimes damaging results. It is all part of the game. Hockey is a tough, physical game played at a very high speed. Bad things are going to happen. When it comes to the infamous hit by Matt Cooke on Marc Savard, my stance was the NHL should have suspended Cooke only because of their supposed strict stance on hits to the head. I actually put more onus for the devastating nature of that hit on Savard ducking and shying away from the blow.

As soon as Pacioretty dropped to the ice, however, I would have gone on record saying it was one of the more devastating hits I have ever seen.

Justify it all you’d like, Bruins Fan – “It was a good hockey play,” “Chara’s not a dirty player,” “It was only bad because of the poor rink design” (my personl favorite) – but Zdeno Chara should have been suspended. Big Zeke caught a big break being able to put this mess behind him missing only the third period last night.

Yes, a lot of the justifications being used are viable and true. Chara is not your classical “dirty player.” If it takes place on the other side of the ice, away from that partition, no one is even talking about the hit. I also don’t believe this hit was of the same ilk as Todd Bertuzzi’s pre-meditated attack on Steve Moore in 2004.

While only he knows for sure, I do not believe, or at least I hope, Chara intended to drive Max Pacioretty head first into the partition between the benches. That was merely an unfortunate byproduct. I do believe, however, Chara did intend on delivering a vicious hit on Pacioretty. Zeke damn well knew what he was doing and was fully intent on lighting Pacioretty up at that moment.

It has not been a love fest for the Bruins and the Canadiens this season. Just one month prior to last night’s game, these two teams were trading blows all over the TD Garden ice in a game that saw 187 penalty minutes called and 13 fighting majors handed out. Two months prior it was the Bruins blowing a two goal lead late in the third before Pacioretty victimized Chara to score the game winner in overtime, shortly after which the two traded barbs on the ice. At the time of last night’s hit, Boston was trailing 4-0 and being just embarrassed by their hated rivals.

As the second period was coming to close, Pacioretty chipped the puck past Chara off a faceoff inside the Montreal zone. He got a step on Chara as the two raced along the benches, and was off to the race on a breakaway unless Chara got a hand on him. Not only was Chara trying to thwart the breakaway bid, but he also did what any good captain for a struggling team should do and tried to send a message to his opponent by unloading on Pacioretty from behind.

My theory is Chara’s intent was to unload on Pacioretty as hard as he could, sending the Montreal winger into the Bruins bench, taking out some frustrations for past mistakes in the process. It might have been a “good, tough hockey play” gone wrong, but Pacioretty still stands to miss significant amount with a sever concussion and fractured vertebrae, a fact that cannot be overlooked, even if the extent of the injury stems more from the happenstance of where the hit took place. Ill intentioned or not, the hit was downright brutal. If the NHL really did want to send a message to its players and fans about how seriously the league is going to take a stand on hits to the head, then Chara should have been suspended.

Fear not, Habs fans. I cannot join your angry mob to lynch Big Zeke next time he comes to Quebec. Yet, there is at least one Bruins fan who is smart enough to realize this was a terribly brutal hit and the NHL should have taken a stance and handed out some kind of punishment. And for all of you who shake the Bruins pom-poms and are about to get all high and mighty on me, take a little time think about whether you were one of those folks calling for Jody Shelley’s head four months ago after he got tangled up with Adam McQuaid, sending the Bruins defender head first into the board, even though McQuaid did not even miss a full period of hockey and the damage resulted from the two blowing an edge and tripping into the boards.

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