It only took just over two periods for the first “controversial” hit of the Stanley Cup Finals to be thrown.
Early in the third, San Jose Shark legend Patrick Marleau took two minutes for checking to the head against Pittsburgh hot hand Bryan Rust. Rust left the game momentarily but did return, not that it should matter when talking about suspensions.
My initial reaction to the live hit was that it seemed ok. After scrutinizing it repeatedly in slow motion, I have to say I still feel tube same way.
In my opinion, Rust’s head actually hits the middle of Marleau’s back. There’s no extra stride and no excessive follow through, stick and elbow down.
The natural inclination of Pittsburgh fans would be to remind the NHL that Kris Letang took a one game suspension earlier in the playoffs for a hit on Marcus Johansson that also featured head contact occurring to the back. I think though this hit is most similar to one thrown by Tampa’s Brian Boyle against Islander Thomas Hickey. There was no suspension there either.
I think the only possible argument for supplementary discipline in the case of Marleau is that possibly the hit was unnecessary by the time it occurred. Rust had clearly played the puck away and was obviously extended and hunched over in a vulnerable position. This was acknowledged by Player Safety:
With Rust no longer a threat, it would have been a much better choice by Marleau to simply avoid making the hit altogether.
As a hockey fan, I think asking that would be a mistake. When you look at what Marleau didn’t do, which was to not accelerate, not thrust or lunge into the hit, not stick his arm or elbow up, and actually turn his body so Rust pretty much just runs into his back, I really don’t see how we can hope for him to do any more to lessen the damage.
I agree with the no suspension based on this. If you think he should be suspended, hit me up at @ToughCallBlog and try to convince me.