Late in the second period of the Boston Bruins’ Saturday matinee in Philly (in a game the B’s ended up winning by a six-pack, 6-0), Milan Lucic boarded the Flyer’s Zac Rinaldo along the right-wing wall in the offensive zone. Lucic earned a five-minute major and was ejected immediately for the play.
With the play along the boards, Rinaldo attempted to hit Bruin Nathan Horton (who was already physically engaged with a Kimmo Timonen) and managed to dislodge the puck from the B’s winger. With his back to center ice, he was hit from behind by Lucic who didn’t let up even while Rinaldo’s numbers were clearly visible the whole time.
After the game, Lucic told reporters: “I noticed he was in a bit of a vulnerable position … I looked and watched the tape again in slo-mo and I looked at the point of contact and it was his shoulder more than anything. And you can see him turning … when he was going into the boards … I’m just glad no one got hurt on the play.”
It’s still enough to earn more than a call from the NHL’s VP in charge of player discipline, Brendan Shanahan.
Now, Rinaldo didn’t appear to be injured as a result of the collision (he acquitted himself very nicely in a victorious bout against Nathan Horton in the moments following the hit) but that’s beside the point. Lucic saw all numbers from the moment he made the decision to hit Rinaldo and finished hard and through the Flyers’ center, who was looking at the puck and facing the boards.
True, this may not have been the most egregious example of hitting from behind/boarding that we’ve witnessed in the past few seasons; however, there’s not much about this hit that eases the culpability of Lucic for delivering it.
The saving grace for Lucic is that he hasn’t earned supplemental discipline in the period defined by the League therefore avoiding ‘repeat offender’ status (no suspension in 18 months). As a result (and taking into account the absence of injury), Lucic should avoid a lengthy ‘Shanaban’.
These hits happen all too often in the NHL. Too frequently, they’re not even called on the ice unless a player crumples to the ice or the hitter finishes with the kind of authority that Lucic does on a regular basis. As B’s fans know from experience, these types of hits can end seasons and even endanger careers.
The fact that Lucic didn’t injure Rinaldo in the collision will factor into the suspension length – but should it? The difference between a serious injury and a player walking away often has less to do with a hitter’s intent and recklessness and more about the small factors like the ‘victim’s’ distance from the boards, balance at the time and other minutiae. In a slightly different scenario, the Lucic hit on Rinaldo could have led to devastating consequences.
There were so many better, less reckless options for Lucic in that situation. He could have taken a more circuitous route to Rinaldo to hit him from the side. He could have backed off the hit considerably to minimize the impact once he saw that he was going to hit all numbers. If he was really displeased with Rinaldo’s actions he could have challenged him to a fight or done any number of less-dangerous (but still full of nasty) things to display his displeasure.
Lucic plays on the edge when he’s playing his best. He’s been known on many occasions to take liberties with opponents (most recently his much-discussed hit on Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller) but usually stays reasonably within the Bruins’ liberal definition of a ‘clean’ game. It wasn’t particularly malicious and Matt Cooke he is not.
It’s worth saying that this hit will never be considered among the most flagrant examples of boarding or hitting from behind because the player wasn’t injured and the hit wasn’t particularly devastating.
However, boarding/hitting from behind is something that the heavy hitters and line-straddling players of today’s game (including Lucic) do far too frequently. These hits are always potentially dangerous and should be deterred as much as possible by the League. A modest one or two game suspension for Milan Lucic is certainly justified.