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Mayhem in Bruins-Penguins game generates buzz around NHL, but it's not positive

Pittsburgh Penguins' Joe Vitale, center, battles Boston Bruins' David Krejci, left, and Matt Bartkowski (43) for the puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

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Pittsburgh Penguins' Joe Vitale, center, battles Boston Bruins' David Krejci, left, and Matt Bartkowski (43) for the puck in the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. - James Neal was suspended five games for kneeing Brad Marchand in the head, and Shawn Thornton is looking at more than that after sucker-punching Brooks Orpik.

On top of that, Loui Eriksson has a concussion from a hit by Orpik, and Chris Kelly has a broken ankle after taking a slash from Pascal Dupuis. That was the mayhem that ensued Saturday night between the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins, and it won't soon be forgotten.

"It was just one of those nights, unfortunately, where not a lot of good things happened in that game," Penguins general manager Ray Shero said Monday at the NHL's board of governors meeting. "Brooks Orpik to me, hopefully he's going to be OK. That was the thing that was our concern, certainly. When that happens, when a guy gets taken off on a stretcher, for both teams the end result of the game, at the end of the day, it really doesn't mean much in an 82-game season and the health of the player."

Likewise, Bruins GM Peter Chiarelli said there's no fallout except that Thornton won't be able to contribute to the team for some time because of his impending suspension. Thornton is suspended pending an in-person hearing.

"He usually handles his business in a respectful way," Chiarelli said. "This time he lost control a little bit."

When Thornton lost control of his emotions, he knocked an unsuspecting Orpik to the ice and landed gloved punches to the Pittsburgh defenceman's face. Orpik left on a stretcher and is on injured reserve with a concussion.

"It's one of those things probably, with a concussion, that we're going to have to wait and see and kind of see how he reacts," Shero said. "Right now (he's) really not doing too much, just resting."

Marchand was fortunate to escape more serious injury after Neal stuck his left leg out while skating by and struck his head with his knee. That earned him a five-game ban from vice-president of player safety Brendan Shanahan, who said the play was "more serious than simply not avoiding contact with a fallen player."

"I think it's appropriate," Shero said of Neal's suspension. "You never know what it's going to be. I knew it was going to be something for sure. It wasn't a smart play on James' part, and he understands that and he knows it."

Said Chiarelli: "It's an incident where they make their decisions, I abide by it. It was a target to the head, and fortunately Brad wasn't hurt."

Coupled with Thornton's actions, the game gave the NHL yet another headache. Player safety was on the docket for Tuesday's board of governors meeting, a routine, scheduled presentation from Shanahan.

But recent incidents have made it a more pressing issue.

"No one wants to see a player hurt," New Jersey Devils GM Lou Lamoriello said. "But I think that we have to be very careful of how we accentuate the negatives, and that seems to be what we look at. Injuries are part of the game, they've always been a part of the game. ... I think the safety committee and the enforcement committee is doing everything they can."

Lamoriello said it was incumbent on players to have more respect for one another because it's their game. And because more bad things could happen.

"Sooner or later somebody is going to miss a season," he said. "And maybe that fear will stop what we do see and what liberties are taken."

A couple of months ago it was the brawl between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals that ignited concern about goalie fights and potentially more severe punishments for goaltenders who do like Ray Emery and cross the red-line. That's more an issue for the next general managers meeting, which takes place March 10-12 in Boca Raton, Fla.

For the board of governors, the Bruins-Penguins game is a fresh memory. It won't lead to rule changes—that's not what this is about—but it is expected to generate plenty of discussion.

"With James and with Shawn Thornton to have it both in one game it's too bad because it ended up being a very good hockey game at the end," Shero said. "Hopefully move on and not going to see that again."

From Chiarelli's perspective there's no choice but to move on and accept that playing on the edge comes with risk.

"We're a physical team, and we usually have incidents that involve physicality," he said. "With that comes these types of things. It's something you deal with."

Follow Stephen Whyno on Twitter at @SWhyno.

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