In a world with no enforcers, fewer and fewer hockey fights and instigator penalties becoming a rare occurrence, NHL teams like the Boston Bruins are being forced into situations where they need to fight after a clean, hard hockey hit.
It almost happened in Wednesday night’s 4-3 overtime loss for the B’s against the Colorado Avalanche where Boston Bruins winger Taylor Hall clobbered Avs center Nathan MacKinnon with a punishing hit during his second shift of the game. Hall caught MacKinnon coming across the defensive blue line and made hard shoulder-to-chest contact with the puck in the vicinity of the two players, and it appeared on first blush, at real speed, like there may have been some head contact as well.
Nathan MacKinnon left the ice after a big hit from Taylor Hall.
In the end, Hall received a two-minute penalty for interference. pic.twitter.com/dVIn1etL8W
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 27, 2022
The refs immediately called a five-minute major penalty on Hall and reviewed the call on replay as a bloodied MacKinnon was helped off the ice. The video showed that the hit was a hard, clean body check where the violence of the hit – and MacKinnon unfortunately carrying his stick high in the air rather than on the ice – resulted in MacKinnon’s own stick slamming him in the face and nose creating a nasty, bloody injury.
I’m no doctor, but I think Nathan MacKinnon may have a broken nose. pic.twitter.com/rNsUXFCPey
— Complete Hockey News (@CompleteHkyNews) January 27, 2022
It was an unfortunate result rather than a dirty hit with head contact. Once a five-minute major is called, the play can only be reduced to a minor penalty instead of being wiped off the books completely. The referees tagged Hall with a minor interference penalty even though there was no discernible infraction on the play and MacKinnon didn’t return to the game due to injuries sustained.
That was just the beginning, however.
Avs captain Gabriel Landeskog chased Hall around trying to get him to drop the gloves in the second period, and defenseman Erik Johnson was called for cross-checking after throwing five cross-checks at Hall around the Colorado net. The Bruins scored a power play goal to go up 3-1 in the game and it looked like the Avalanche’s lack of discipline was going to do them in.
“We might have spent a little too much time [chasing Hall], but that’s why I was hoping Hall was going to settle it with me and we could move on,” said the Colorado captain after the game. “Hall didn’t want to answer for it, and that’s unfortunate.
“They’ve made it pretty clear over the last couple of years that they’re trying to get rid of those [hits]. At the end of the day, when one of your best friends and teammates and ultimately your best player gets hit like that, you’ve just got to make sure that next time anybody thinks about doing that, they have to pay a price and there will be some consequences with that. Doesn’t have to be a dirty play for us to feel that way. It’s just the way it is. I was trying to force him to [fight]. But he didn’t want to.”
Real talk: It’s very similar to the time Landeskog ran away from then-Boston Bruins winger Milan Lucic looking to drop the gloves, so there’s also a level of hypocrisy to everything the Colorado captain is saying here.
To their credit, the Avalanche dominated the third period while scoring two goals to force overtime and then won it on their own power play strike. Afterward the Avalanche were highly critical of Hall for not “answering the bell” for a clean hit that even they admitted probably wasn’t dirty or a penalty.
“I think in the regular season, you just have to answer for things you do on the ice, you know?” said Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar. “Just because the officials or the Department of Player Safety doesn’t deem something that bad, it’s what your team is willing to accept as playing within the way they see the game should be played. And if your teammates don’t like something that a guy on another team does, and they feel like that was inappropriate, then they’re going to try and get you to answer the bell or force you into it.
“That’s the way I see it. The players discipline the game as much as the officials do. [A] little high, little late. Don’t love the hit. It’s the type of hit — whether it’s really solid or a glancing blow — that the league is trying to get rid of.”
Should Hall have dropped the gloves with Landeskog to cool things down in the second period? The Bruins had the momentum and were all over the Avalanche in middle 20 minutes as Colorado totally lost their composure in an important game for the Black and Gold. And it wasn’t a dirty hit by even Colorado’s admission as Landeskog confessed to the TNT crew after Wednesday night’s game was over.
The Boston Bruins went through the exact same situation last month when Filip Forsberg busted up Patrice Bergeron’s nose with a hit that was even more predatory and didn’t bemoan Forsberg “not answering the bell” when Bergeron came looking for him afterward.
It’s admirable that the Avs had their best player’s back in a hockey play gone wrong and the hope is that the dynamic All-Star MacKinnon is going to be okay. But chastising Hall for a need “to answer” for a clean hit is prime eye-roll material when the Avalanche should have been celebrating their 17th straight win on home ice in dramatic fashion.