BOSTON – The punishment for what Oscar Sundqvist did to Matt Grzelcyk in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup final remains up in the air for Sundqvist. The consequences, however, are now apparent for Grzelcyk.
Addressing media Thursday at the Bruins’ practice facility, coach Bruce Cassidy confirmed Grzelcyk is in concussion protocol. He will not travel with the team Thursday and is listed as day-to-day, with no other updates on his status yet.
The news isn’t particularly surprising given the force with which Grzelcyk’s head hit the glass in Boston’s zone when he absorbed a hit from behind by Blues center Sundqvist in the first period. Grzelcyk lay on the ice for several minutes, left the game and was taken to a nearby hospital. The revelation that Grzelcyk’s status is up in the air for Game 3 and beyond matters for St. Louis as much as Boston, because it could impact how soon we see Sundqvist again in the series.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced Thursday that Sundqvist would have a hearing for boarding, classifying the hit as the same infraction the on-ice officials did when they assessed Sundqvist a minor penalty. Sundqvist is not a repeat offender and has no fines or suspensions on his NHL record, but Grzelcyk’s injury matters because, per the CBA, injuries to the victim of an illegal hit can lengthen a suspension the same way repeat offenses do. Neither factors into a sentence until the league decides on a suspension, however, so if the NHL ends up ruling that the on-ice punishment was sufficient, the injury won’t impact Sundqvist. Still, the fact he has a hearing suggests it’s probable that he’ll sit and, even though playoff suspensions are weighted, with one game the equivalent of much more regular-season time, a two-game ban would make sense once Grzelcyk’s injury is factored in.
Here’s the definition of boarding, per the NHL’s rulebook:
“A boarding penalty shall be imposed on any player who checks or pushes a defenseless opponent in such a manner that causes the opponent to hit or impact the boards violently or dangerously. The severity of the penalty, based upon the impact with the boards, shall be at the discretion of the Referee. There is an enormous amount of judgment involved in the application of this rule by the Referees. 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. However, in determining whether such contact could have been avoided, the circumstances of the check, including whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position immediately prior to or simultaneously with the check or whether the check was unavoidable can be considered. This balance must be considered by the Referees when applying this rule.”
The decision is all about that balance and whether the hitter or hittee is more responsible for the collision. Sometimes, it’s both.
“It’s incumbent on the person delivering the hit to be aware of a player in a prone position,” Cassidy said. “I’ll always believe that a player has got to protect himself, not put himself in spots, but some games, they’re unavoidable. So that was a hit that was a prone position, and he followed through on the hit, he got penalized for it, I believe he’s having a hearing, so that’s it.
“I’ve always felt it’s on both players to be aware what’s going on. Things happen fast. It’s not the first hit from behind, and it won’t be the last.”
Sundqvist hit Grzelcyk in a defenseless position, causing him to impact the boards violently, no doubt. But Grzelcyk was also shifting his weight and awkwardly off balance prior to impact, thus putting himself in a vulnerable position. In this case, it appears Sundqvist had a few strides to avoid delivering the illegal hit, and that’s likely why he has a date with the DOPS.
“It seemed like (Grzelcyk) was in that position to give enough time for the guy who made the hit to try and change his route or try to avoid the head,” said Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. “But it happens fast, and it’s not always easy to do so.”
Assuming Grzelcyk misses Game 3 in St. Louis, which seems likely, which defenseman draws into the Bruins lineup: John Moore or Steven Kampfer?
“Johnny Moore’s a left stick, so that’s the easiest thing, to keep everyone on their strong sides, but we’ll look at that a little more once we find out from Matt,” Cassidy said, adding that Friday’s practice should be the indicator of what he decides.
So the Bruins head to enemy territory shorthanded. The Blues, however, were missing right winger Robert Thomas and defenseman Vince Dunn already, and there’s a strong chance they’ve lost Sundqvist for a game or two, so they face just as much of a challenge, if not a bigger one.
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