The fast-paced game between the Dallas Stars and Tampa Bay Lightning became a war of attrition late in the second period as Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was injured on a check by Jamie Benn, then Curtis McKenzie was hurt on a checking from behind major by Nikita Nesterov about a minute later.
Here's the more serious of the hits, the one that got Nesterov ejected (and quite possibly will get him suspended)
Nesterov got ejected for this. https://t.co/bC9pDHvy1H— Pat Iversen (@Pat_Iversen) October 16, 2015
And the full video of the hit and aftermath:
This hit is inexcusable. McKenzie has his back to Nesterov the whole way and was in the dangerous area of 4-5 feet from the boards. He had no opportunity to defend himself from this hit, and he was launched off his feet by the force of the contact, going head-and-arms first into the boards in an extremely dangerous manner.
He was obviously injured on the play, having to be helped from the ice by his teammates after spending several minutes on the ice in pain. He did not return to the game with what the Stars called a lower-body injury. Nesterov rightly received a major and game misconduct for boarding.
You can argue the contact wasn't ridiculously hard, but that doesn't matter. Boarding is about the result - whether or not a player is launched into the boards in a dangerous manner, and launching doesn't come much more dangerous than how McKenzie flew in. This is the type of hit that can theoretically paralyze a player if he doesn't get his head up quickly, and it's why the league generally takes them seriously.
Here is the hit from Benn on Hedman just prior that had the Bolts so mad:
Benn on Hedman https://t.co/bVhm4lSwJk— Pat Iversen (@Pat_Iversen) October 16, 2015
The difference in these hits couldn't be much bigger. Hedman is up against the boards with the puck vaguely in his possession (you could argue for interference, but it's a puck battle and not a clear released to a new player situation). Benn's shoulder hits him square in the upper chest, which causes Hedman's head to snap back into the boards.
Hedman is puck staring and doesn't see Benn coming even though he is facing the direction Benn comes from, which means he's not braced for the check. This causes his head to jerk back into the boards pretty hard. But this isn't boarding, and it's a play that happens several times a period without the whiplash effect. The players are facing each other, and there is no launch - Hedman has every opportunity to protect himself in this situation.
Here's the key part of rule 41.1 (the rule for boarding) that explains why the situations were so different and dealt with as such: "The onus is on the player applying the check to ensure his opponent is not in a defenseless position and if so, he must avoid or minimize contact."
And here's the key part of rule 43, checking from behind: "A check from behind is a check delivered on a player who is not aware of the impending hit, therefore unable to protect or defend himself, and contact is made on the back part of the body. When a player intentionally turns his body to create contact with his back, no penalty shall be assessed."
Hedman was not in a defenseless position on this play. McKenzie was. That's the difference in the two hits, and that's why Nesterov could most certainly be suspended while Benn almost certainly won't be.
We hope both Hedman and McKenzie end up being okay.