As Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play man Jim Hughson put it, "The Rangers lost their minds when Stepan got hit." And it was that hit that led to all sorts of carnage and suspensions in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference final. And as usual, it was all avoidable.
So let’s go over the events that led to one player having his jaw broken and two others being suspended Thursday night:
Brandon Prust of the Montreal Canadiens, a guy who can play a little when he puts his mind to it, but is known primarily as a fighter/enforcer who’s out there to keep guys safe, recklessly steps into Derek Stepan with a late and vicious hit and breaks his jaw. Then Dan Carcillo of the New York Rangers, a guy who can play a little when he puts his mind to it, but is known primarily as a fighter/enforcer who’s out there to keep guys safe, pursues retributive justice because all four of the officials on the ice either didn’t see the Prust hit or ignored it. One thing leads to another and Carcillo manhandles linesman Scott Driscoll and gets himself a 10-game suspension.
So Stepan is hurt and required surgery and nobody knows how long he’ll be out of the lineup. Carcillo is out for 10 games, which means he’ll be able to participate in one more game in this Stanley Cup tournament if the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference final in seven games and the Stanley Cup final goes seven games. And Prust, the guy who touched everything off with a hit that the league has been trying to eliminate from the game for three years, gets off with a two-game suspension. He’ll be back for Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.
Good work, NHL. I’ve said it before and I’ll keep saying it as long as this nonsense keeps happening: The NHL needs guys like Brandon Prust and Dan Carcillo to keep its players safe from guys like Brandon Prust and Dan Carcillo. And the NHL and its culture of violence is every bit as culpable for all of this as the perpetrators were.
Was Carcillo guilty of an enormous brain cramp when he whacked Driscoll with his stick? Yes, but it should come as no surprise because the guys like him who are employed to keep the temperature down are the ones who cause the vast majority of this kind of stuff. Did Prust intend to hurt Stepan or did he target Stepan’s head? No, but players like Prust make their living doing things like, among other things, “finishing their checks” which is code for making them pay for carrying the puck or making a pass.
The league maintains that the Prust his was not a headshot in the classic sense - that the hit began at Stepan's chest and landed on his jaw without intent to target his head. That's why he wasn't suspended under Rule 48. We get that. But when four officials are on the ice and either don't see that or the game is too fast for them to make a decision on it, then it's time the video replay department in Toronto took control over the decisions the way they do with disputed goals.
The fact is that if the officials had done their job and called a penalty on Prust, he would have been given a major penalty for interference and would have been out of the game. Carcillo, then, would not have felt the need to be a vigilante and get his pound of flesh on behalf of the Rangers. He would not have involved himself in the melee that led to his confrontation with Driscoll and his 10-game suspension. As Hockey Night in Canada play-by-play man Jim Hughson succinctly put it: "The Rangers lost their minds when Stepan got hit."
The fighting apologists will, as always, say this has nothing to do with fighting, but let’s connect the dots here. Prust and Carcillo are both employed by their NHL teams because one of their main duties is to fight when the situation calls for it. None of this would have happened and Stepan would have been safe to make a pass and skate up ice without getting wiped out in the neutral zone by a runaway freight train if Prust or Carcillo or their ilk didn’t have a place in the game.
Competent officiating would not have prevented Stepan from having his jaw broken, but it would have kept things from boiling over. It would have kept Carcillo from chasing down Prust and trying to exact revenge. And it would have perhaps given Prust reason to think about his actions from the confines of the Canadiens dressing room instead of allowing him to participate in the rest of the game. But a league that would stand up for its players and not allow this kind of nonsense would have prevented all of this from happening in the first place.