In the aftermath of Thursday evening’s game one between the Rangers and the Capitals, there has been plenty of discussion regarding the hit that Nicklas Backstrom put on Dan Boyle in the waning seconds of the game which indirectly led to Joel Ward’s winning goal.
Some have claimed that the hit was so dirty, a suspension should’ve been issued, while others have made the case that it was a completely clean hit worthy of exactly what it got, which was nothing; no penalty, no misconduct, and certainly no suspension. Many, though, have fallen somewhere between the two extremes.
Here’s my attempt at an honest look at the different viewpoints regarding the hit which has garnered so much conversation over the past 24 hours.
1) The Hit was Clean/It’s the Playoffs and That Won’t Get Called, Thus the Game Ended as it Should Have
Was it a clean hit though? Well, maybe it was. As Dan Boyle went into the corner to play the puck, he slowed almost to a halt, bent over and turned toward the boards as he went to make a play. Boyle more or less put himself into a vulnerable position at which point Backstrom came in and finished his check.
Did Backstrom ever leave his feet? No. Does Backstrom have a history of nasty hits? Even Boyle will tell you no. Did the hit come while Boyle was slightly bent over while facing the boards? It appeared so, but at the speed of which today’s game is played, it’s hard to tell how much time Backstrom actually would’ve had to change the course of his play.
#NYR d-man Dan Boyle on Backstrom hit: “I was pretty dazed and confused for awhile.” Said Backstrom doesn’t have a history.
— Sean Hartnett (@HartnettHockey) May 1, 2015
Now, even if you take that argument that the play was a borderline penalty, it would make sense that seeing as it was a pivotal moment in a playoff game, the refs might have made the choice to swallow their whistles and let the period play out barring an utterly egregious violation. The officiating does tend to become far more lenient when it comes to the postseason anyway, and given that history of increased clutching, grabbing, and physical play in the playoffs, it should have come as a surprise to nobody that the hit Backstrom landed on Boyle was not deemed worthy of any sort of penalty.
2) The Hit was High, from Behind, and deserved a Major/Misconduct/Suspension
And now, ladies and gentlemen, the opposite end of the spectrum.
Was the hit from Backstrom a dirty one? That’s a case that could be made because as numerous angles, pictures and replays showed, the brunt of the blow from Backstrom did get Boyle up in the vicinity of his head. Not only that, the hit came while the Ranger defender was square to the boards. Was the hit actually to Boyle’s head, though? It sure looked that way, especially from the angel pictured below, and that was compounded by the fact he was not facing Backstrom, in vulnerable and defenseless position, and thus was unable to prepare for the hit.
Regardless of a player’s history, in this case Backstrom, a hit of that nature which comes high, from behind, and results in some sort of injury (no matter how minor) would normally result in some sort of discipline. This hit should’ve been treated no differently, for if the league is serious about cutting down on dangerous hits such as this one, then they best be doling out discipline.
How the officiating crew missed such a blatant violation at the most crucial moment is just inexcusable. The referee who was standing at the opposite side of the goal line had what appeared to be a clear view of the hit, but even if he was obstructed by players in the way, the linesman at the blue line standing diagonally from the play certainly had a pretty good view. There was no excuse to miss that hit, and yet they found a way to miss it anyway.
*(I recently wrote about how ref-blaming is a pet-peeve of mine. I am only attempting to outline and understand the case that others have made)
3) The Hit on Dan Boyle was not Dirty, but probably deserved a Minor Penalty
Here’s the middle ground where most rational fans probably fall, and that is recognizing the fact that Backstrom’s hit on Boyle wasn’t dirty enough to warrant a major, but also wasn’t squeaky clean either.
With technology the way it is these days, most pictures, videos, and replays can be altered to make them look the way you want them to, and thus the hit on Boyle could look from some angles to be worse than it actually was. Maybe one angle made the hit look higher than it was, or perhaps Boyle appeared to be square to the boards when in reality he was only partially facing the glass.
That said, assuming one of those is true and the hit was either high or from behind, a minor penalty should have at least been assessed.
Now, even if no call was made, the play should’ve been blown dead or the goal waved off as soon as one of the officials realized that Boyle was injured, even it if was in a minor capacity.
Was it such a bad hit that a major penalty or suspension should have resulted? No, but the Rangers certainly had a gripe and reason to be frustrated. That said, to expect a penalty to be called at that point in a playoff game is a bit much. The play certainly appeared to influence the outcome, but not enough to fully blame the officials.
4) Forget the Officials; Missed Coverage Led to Ward’s Goal
And then there’s the mindset which the Rangers are approaching the situation, and that is accepting the play for what it was, declining to comment on the officiating beyond saying “the standards have been set,” and taking responsibility for the missed coverage in front of Lundqvist which gave Ward the opportunity to net the winner.
The fact of the matter is that no call was made, and despite the lack of a call, the Rangers still could have continued to skate and defend. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t. McDonagh stayed below the red line to defend Ovechkin after Boyle went down, Stepan glided below the goal line to halfheartedly join in on that coverage, and Miller had Lundqvist’s far side covered, thus leaving Ward wide open at the spot which Stepan had drifted in from.
There was no reason to lose the man standing alone in front, but the game may never have even reached that point had JT Miller not iced the puck with under 30 seconds to play in regulation.
Could the case be made that the officials missed a call? Sure, but it’s a waste of time and breath to argue that. The Rangers dogged it in those waning seconds and were undoubtedly playing for overtime. Even after Boyle went down, they still had their chance to defend and they missed it. Now the Blueshirts know what the standards are, and you can be sure they won’t forget that moving forward.
Whatever case is most valid is for you the reader to decide. What is not up for debate, however, is that the Rangers best be ready come puck drop on Saturday for game two. If that game isn’t a must win after Thursday’s meltdown, than it’s pretty darn close. Puck drop is scheduled for 12:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden.
Jake Gittler is now in his second season as a contributing member of The Hockey Writers. After spending the 2014-15 season working in Communications for Adirondack Flames of the AHL and covering the New York Rangers here for The Hockey Writers, Jake’s coverage has been switched over to the Colorado Avalanche for the 2015-16 season. Jake can be reached via email at Jakegittler@gmail.com, or on Twitter @Jgittler_hockey.