Even if you don’t care about the NHL (perfectly understandable so long as there’s basketball on … oh, wait …) you can appreciate the elements of this fantastic/controversial hit in the Buffalo-Boston game.
One, the Bruins’ forward Milan Lucic, a 230-pound refrigerator on skates, manages to obliterate Sabres goalie Ryan Miller on the breakaway without so much as flinching. The kindest description of this blow is “failing to avoid contact,” as opposed to “shoulder-concussing a goalie straight into next week.”
Here’s how Lucic explained the head-on:
“I blocked a shot and pushed the puck a little too far ahead of me. I was skating after the puck as hard as I possibly could and I looked up and he was still in his net. I looked down at the puck and was continuing on and the next thing I know I look up and he’s coming out full speed at me. Obviously it was a hard collision and I did everything I could just to brace myself.
“Like he said, I have 50 pounds on him and that’s probably why he might have got the worst of it. If you look at the video, I was cringing after the play, too, because I was winded and it was such a hard collision. He got a good piece of me as well.”
Got your story straight then, right? Good, ’cause it’s gonna come in handy when the league reviews it and … does nothing.
So, yeah, Two, in the Year of the Concussion, it’s — refreshing? horrifying? — curious to see the league opt not to make an example out of Lucic despite the concussion Miller sustained on the play. Lucic avoided a suspension or a fine for the hit, and served only a two-minute penalty during the Bruins’ 6-2 romp. Considering the circumstances, this isn’t even a slap on the wrist — it’s hand-massage.
League conduct czar Brendan Shanahan indicated the deciding factor was that Lucic didn’t actually make contact with Miller’s dome: “The reason this isn’t, in my mind, supplemental discipline is because Lucic makes no movement towards Miller. It’s shoulder-to-shoulder contact.”
And as if there was any doubt that Miller wasn’t going to see more justice done, Shanahan reaffirmed at a Hall of Fame induction ceremony, in response to Buffalo kvetching:
“I think Buffalo’s comments are irresponsible to suggest that it’s open season. I will have this warning for players: ‘It’s not. If you run a goalie you’re going to find yourself in the same situation that Lucic was today, you’re going to have to explain yourself and you don’t explain it sufficiently, and if I don’t buy it, you’re going to be suspended.’”
Hear that? Shanahan will demand sufficient explanations. No playing around here, y’all.
Three, Miller might’ve gotten knocked firmly onto his ass but he didn’t take it sitting down. The first thing he did upon landing is take a swipe his stick at Lucic. Pointlessly. Then he gave up three goals before being pulled and watched his replacement, Jhonas Enroth, give up three more goals on just 13 shots.
Quoth Miller: “”I just want to say what a piece of (bad word) I think Lucic is. Fifty pounds on me, and he runs me like that. It’s unbelievable. Everyone in this city sees him as a big, tough, solid player. I respected him for how hard he played. That was gutless. Gutless piece of (bad word).”
Four, and best of all, the commentary afterward wasn’t that Lucic was out of line. It was that the Sabres are a pack of gutless wonders for not cleaning the boards with Lucic’s face once he clobbered their goalie.
Among those subscribing to that opinion: Lucic. It’s below, at about the 1:43 mark, but here’s what Lucic responded to the question of what would happen “if the roles were reversed, if that happened to [Boston goalie] Timmy [Thomas], would there have been a stronger response from you guys?”
Lucic: “Definitely. We wouldn’t accept anything like that. We woulda took care of business. But we’re a different team than they are.”
Let it be noted that if Lucic is guilty of steamrolling an opposing goalie, he at least advocated for his own ass-whipping in its wake. The Sabres — who still lead the Northeast Division, in which the defending Stanley Cup champions bring up the rear — will get a chance to redeem themselves in two weeks, back in Buffalo. Proposed rule change for next year, however: If the goalies want to play the puck that far from the goal, they’re also going to have to play the opposing players. Shanahan isn’t tripping over himself to protect the goalie in this case, and he shouldn’t in the future. Miller’s a hockey player. Can’t stand the beat-down? Stay in the crease.