The “hit” won’t be found on any statistician’s sheet. The play won’t warrant a hearing with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. And it definitely won’t make any highlight reels.
However, when Buffalo Sabres blueliner Rasmus Ristolainen was flattened late in the third period in a game against the Pittsburgh Penguins Thursday, it’s bound to be remembered as a play that sums up the team’s season.
Not without effort, it was a failure to make a play and gain any ground.
Down Goes Ristolainen
With no one near him on the ice, Ristolainen sent himself into the boards aggressively. His feet popped as he landed on the ice and his stick shot up in the air like a ping pong ball being held up by compressed air at the NHL Draft Lottery.
At first pass, it appeared like the 6-foot-4, 218-pound defenseman basically Kronwalled himself.
The term Kronwall was created in honor of former Detroit Red Wings forward Niklas Kronwall, who regularly bulldozed opposing players, dropping them to the ice as if they’d ran into a brick wall… a Kronwall. The 15-season veteran made a career out of his patented ‘back-first’ hit and left a trail of devastated puck carriers in his wake.
Replays of Ristolainen
Replays and broadcasters may be quick to point out that Ristolainen, 25, was doing everything within his power to keep the puck inside the zone.
With the clock ticking down and his team’s net empty, giving them an extra attacker, the seven-year veteran’s eyes followed the play and saw the puck being sent around the boards. He zig-zagged to his right to cut off the clearing attempt and the crashed into the board, blowing himself up.
When he flopped, it looked as if an invisible carpet got pulled out from under him. Either that or a cloaked Harry Potter slew foot him. He not only went down, but he tossed his stick like it was a hot potato.
Part of a Memorable Night
The night in the NHL was filled with worthy accomplishments, interesting moments and notable games.
- New York Ranger forward Mika Zibanejad scored five goals, including the overtime winner.
- Chicago Blackhawk winger Patrick Kane netted his 30th goal of the season.
- Tampa Bay Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy recorded a 32-save shutout.
- Nashville Predator goaltender Juuse Saros had a 33-save shutout.
Then there was Ristolainen, who said, “Hold my beer.”
When Ristolainen fell to the ice, play continued. Though the hit came out of nowhere, he was not whistled for boarding himself, nor did he get slapped with a self-mutilation minor.
After the game, many fans were clamoring for retribution. Someone had to pay for the blindside hit that Ristolainen never saw coming. They wanted punishment doled out. Players like Washington Capitals winger Tom Wilson, Boston Bruins winger Brad Marchand, and Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri were prepared to take the blame and accept $7,500 fines levied by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety.
Ristolainen, has six goals and 26 assists and ranks ninth in the NHL in hits this season with 198.
Despite having his name swirling in trade rumors for more than a year, Ristolainen, the eighth overall pick in 2013, has had somewhat of a bounce back year for the Sabres. After finishing dead last in the NHL for plus/minus with a minus-41 last season, he’s a plus-one this season. It could be the first time in his seven-season career he’d finish with a plus rating.
A few weeks ago, the Sabres were desperately hanging on to mathematical odds of earning a playoff berth. At the trade deadline, they were a mere six points behind the third place Atlantic Division Toronto Maple Leafs with a game in hand. Since then, they’ve dropped five straight games and have dropped 12 points behind. Their season is over.
Another Woeful Sabres Season
Ristolainen’s effort to try and keep the puck in is now an instant classic. With good intentions, the native of Turku, Finland, wound up on his derriere, unable to stop the puck in their 4-2 loss. It’s possible Ristolainen was leveled by the ghost of playoffs past.
The floundering Sabres are destined for a league-worst ninth straight season missing the playoffs. The play epitomizes the Sabres sorry season.
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”