BOSTON - There can be no justice when two men lose the chance to take part in the Stanley Cup.
Nathan Horton won't have the opportunity to score another big goal for the Boston Bruins after being hospitalized with a concussion. Aaron Rome, who delivered the hit that put him there, won't play another minute for the Vancouver Canucks this season after receiving a suspension four times longer than any previously handed out in the championship series.
Even the NHL, desperate to take a stand on dangerous hits, doesn't win when it comes down hard on a player at the most important time of year.
"I take it very seriously, very seriously," said league vice-president Mike Murphy, who is handling discipline for the final. "Guys play all their lives to get to this series on both teams, and you might never get back. So I take it very seriously. I do not make light of this.
"I wish I wasn't sitting here. I wish Aaron was playing, and I wish Nathan was playing."
Instead, an emotional series rife with bad blood will play on without them. The league went further than simply handing Rome a record-setting four-game suspension on Tuesday for his dangerous hit on Horton in Game 3—Murphy also issued a warning to both teams that any player caught taunting an opponent will be given a two-minute unsportsmanlike penalty and 10-minute misconduct.
"We've addressed it with the teams as early as this morning and I will speaking with both general managers and coaches before the day is over about the crap that we're seeing and the garbage that's going on and some of the issues," said Murphy.
The Canucks were in a somewhat ornery mood despite holding a 2-1 series lead heading into Game 4 at TD Garden on Wednesday.
In their minds, the only thing worse than losing 8-1 in Game 3 was seeing Rome banned for the rest of the series. The defenceman suffered a concussion himself in the Western Conference final on an unpenalized hit from San Jose's Jamie McGinn and his teammates never imagined they'd lose him for the series—even after watching Horton twitch on the ice before being loaded on stretcher following the hit from Rome.
"We totally disagree (with the suspension)," said Canucks forward Daniel Sedin. "We support Rome. He's a hard-working guy. He has no intention to hurt anyone out there."
It will be no easy feat for the Bruins to carry on without Horton, who scored the winning goal in two Game 7 victories during this playoff run. The 26-year-old was participating in the playoffs for the first time in his career and had eight goals and 17 points in 21 games.
Horton spent the night in a local hospital before getting released on Tuesday morning and is suffering from what the Bruins called a "severe concussion."
"We have to deal with it and we have to find a way to rally around it," said Boston forward Milan Lucic. "I think everyone needs to step up and do a little bit more."
There is an atmosphere of change around the NHL's discipline process. Hours before the start of the Stanley Cup final, Colin Campbell stepped down as league disciplinarian after 14 years on the job and will be replaced by Brendan Shanahan starting next season.
Murphy was already tabbed to handle the final because Campbell's son Gregory plays for the Bruins. He consulted Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke, who formerly held the position, and others before making a ruling on Rome but made it clear the final decision came directly from him.
"This is my standard—I was given the responsibility to deal with this series," said Murphy. "I have to look at myself and make sure I'm doing the right thing because I know the severity of what we've just done there. I know the severity with Nathan in the hospital and Aaron Rome not being able to play in the final."
There had only been three previous suspensions in the history of the Stanley Cup final and they were all for one-game apiece. Detroit's Jiri Fischer in 2002, Calgary's Ville Nieminen in 2004 and Anaheim's Chris Pronger in 2007 were all banned by Campbell for incidents in the final, but the combined length of their suspensions was less severe than what Rome received.
In pure hockey terms, it's a lopsided trade.
Rome is a depth player on a deep Vancouver blue-line and will likely be replaced by Keith Ballard or Chris Tanev—who've both seen action earlier in the playoffs. Rookie Tyler Seguin is expected to take Horton's place for Boston and has awfully big skates to fill.
"We lost a pretty good player," said Bruins coach Claude Julien.
Boston is no stranger to seeing players knocked out of the lineup on controversial plays after having lost Marc Savard to a concussion in March 2010 on a hit from Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke that led to the creation of rule 48 outlawing blindside hits to the head.
There is still much debate on what should and shouldn't be allowed in the game—as evidenced by the wide range of opinion on the Rome-Horton incident.
No one was talking about anything else at the Stanley Cup on Tuesday. For Bruins forward Shawn Thornton, who won the Stanley Cup with Rome in Anaheim four years ago, the issue is much simpler than some make it out to be.
"It doesn't matter what the guy is like," said Thornton. "Sure, I know Romer. But it doesn't matter if he's a great guy off the ice, or if the guy is an asshole.
"The hit is the hit. He made the hit."