BROSSARD, Que. – As Max Pacioretty lays in a hospital bed in Montreal with a fracture of the fourth cervical vertebrae and a severe concussion, wondering what lies in the future in hockey and life, it’s impossible to know what is going through his mind.
And as Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins prepared to face the wrath of NHL discipline right around the same time, it’s impossible to know what Chara was thinking when he rode Pacioretty into the stanchion in the Canadiens 4-1 win over the Bruins Tuesday night.
One thing is certain, Chara had no idea that the play was going to end as disastrously as it did and with such devastating results. What is not is whether or not he knew he was riding into the boards a player with whom the Bruins have a checkered past, exactly what his level of intent was and whether he had the time to process Pacioretty’s past with the Canadiens before deciding to hit a player who had already played the puck.
But given the NHL’s seemingly relentless revenge-based philosophy, it’s certainly not out of the realm of possibility that Chara knew exactly what he was doing. More than any other sport, the code of hockey demands that every slight – large or small, intentional or not – has to be responded to with an act of vengeance.
All of this, of course, is for the NHL to decide. And the result has to be taken into account. As far as Pacioretty’s concussion is concerned, we’re talking Marc Savard territory here. It’s hard to believe Pacioretty would be able to return even if the Canadiens advance all the way to the Stanley Cup final. The question now seems to surround whether his injury is career-threatening and how it will affect him as a player if and when he comes back.
One day after the incident, even the players in the Canadiens room weren’t sure. But opinions of Chara in Montreal were all over the map, portraying him as everything from an innocent victim to a bloodthirsty goon who got his arm up at the last second to ensure he exacted the maximum damage on the hit.
Players in the NHL are also hyper aware of their surroundings and who is on the ice at all times – or at least they should be. Given that line of reasoning, Pacioretty’s teammate Michael Cammalleri has no doubt Chara knew exactly who he was dealing with when he lined Pacioretty up. Cammalleri said he still had not seen the hit, but had a feel for what his teammates thought about it.
“What people are upset in this room is that I guess he drove the elbow through the head with an intent to injure kind of thing,” Cammalleri said. “I don’t think Chara premeditated this, but from experience when a player gets under your skin for whatever reason, you remember it and you notice when he’s out there. You know whom you’re playing against. Especially a divisional opponent because you’re so familiar. You can almost tell by the movements of a player. There’s a lot of tells, from what brand of stick they’re using to how they tape it.”
Canadiens goalie Carey Price said the history between Chara and Pacioretty probably played a part. In a Jan. 8 game between the Canadiens and Bruins, Pacioretty scored in overtime, then shoved Chara out of the way, which was the genesis of the hard feelings between the two players.
“Well that’s the whole thing,” Price said. “They do kind of have a history and that adds fuel to the fire. The only person who knows is (Chara).”
Canadiens coach Jacques Martin, who coached Chara when both were with the Ottawa Senators, also acknowledged that players have to have an awareness of their environment. But he was more concerned with the fact that these kinds of incidents have become more commonplace.
“What’s important is to understand the severity of the incident and react accordingly when it comes to the league,” Martin said. “How angry am I with Chara? It’s more, where are the limits to the physicality of our game? I don’t think it’s just one incident. The league has to look at those incidents that have had some serious repercussions to different players. I think at some point they have to address it.”