If the NHL is serious about ridding the game of hits to the head, then there's no better opportunity and no better time for the league to make that point.
Boston defenseman Johnny Boychuk went after Jonathan Toews' head with his forearm in the second period of Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night. Toews didn’t play a shift in the third period. Game over. Game 6 over for Boychuk.
Just as a penalty in the first period is supposed to be a penalty in the third period, then a head-hunting move in Game 5 of the final ought to warrant a suspension the way it does in Game 1 of the regular season.
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It wouldn't matter if it was Viktor Stalberg instead of Toews, but I'd bet if it was done to Sidney Crosby, then Boychuk would've been suspended between periods.
The product the NHL is selling is not Boychuk’s act. It is selling exceptionally skilled players. It is selling stars such as Toews and Crosby.
Like Crosby, Toews is part of the Hart Trophy conversation. At least he is when Eastern writers stay up late to watch.
Also like Crosby, Toews is a repeated concussion victim whose head is targeted continually.
The league cannot afford these kinds of acts. The Hawks certainly can’t.
Reunited with Patrick Kane and Bryan Bickell in Game 4, Toews suddenly was centering the hottest line in captivity. Kane scored the only goals the Hawks needed in Game 5, giving that line four goals and 10 points in the last two games.
And then Toews couldn’t take the ice in the third period as the Hawks were trying to move within one win of their second Cup in four seasons.
Here’s the thing: Even if Toews’ injury isn’t a concussion, Boychuk’s hit was obvious, even if two referees blew the call.
Sure, physical play is part of the game. Muscle vs. speed is one of hockey’s main attractions. It has been a storyline in this final.
But head-hunting is unacceptable. It has to be unacceptable no matter the situation.
That has been the league’s propaganda. Now’s the chance to prove it.
The NHL has to stand up. The league cannot afford to turtle. Everyone’s watching.