ST. LOUIS – David Backes lay motionless. The crowd gasped and tried to process the hit he had taken, and the players paired off in a scrum. A moment later, the captain of the St. Louis Blues got up and tried to get involved.
A referee held him back. A trainer held him back. He wobbled to one knee and got up again. He jawed at the Chicago Blackhawks, the trainer pinning him against the boards to keep him upright. He shook his head. He stumbled. He grimaced. He tried to breathe.
Eventually, Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook went off with a charging major and a game misconduct, and Backes went off with two trainers holding him steady as he walked down the tunnel.
The hit was late and violent – and almost certainly will result in a suspension because of those two factors. It swung the game, and it could end up swinging the series.
It came with 4:51 left in the third period Saturday and the Blackhawks holding a one-goal lead. The Blues pulled their goalie and used the 6-on-4 advantage to tie the game with 6.4 seconds left in the third, then dominated overtime and won. For the second straight game, they faced a 3-2 deficit, tied the game late in regulation and won in OT, 4-3. Now they lead the series, 2-0.
“You never want to see Dave go down,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “You watch in overtime. Everybody was hungry to get that game for him.”
The Blues love to hit, and Backes, their emotional leader, is one of their biggest hitters. The series was already starting to get chippy. Chicago’s Bryan Bickell stuck out his left leg and clipped St. Louis’ Vladimir Sobotka with 6:05 left in the third, dropping Sobotka to the ice, at least temporarily. Bickell received a minor for kneeing; it remains to be seen if he will receive more. Sobotka stayed in the game.
“That was the break of a lifetime to see him still be able to play and skate,” said Blues coach Ken Hitchcock. “Hopefully he’s OK tomorrow.”
[Puck Daddy: Brent Seabrook ejected after hit to head of David Backes]
Backes lost the puck along the end boards in the Chicago zone. He skated into the corner and turned toward Seabrook as Seabrook approached at high speed. Seabrook had his right skate on the ice when he made contact. His right elbow was tucked. His shoulder or upper right arm struck Backes in the head initially, and then his hip struck Backes’ torso. Backes fell back and hit his head on the glass, and Seabrook went flying.
The NHL’s department of player safety clipped video of the incident, as it does with anything borderline, and new disciplinarian Stephane Quintal and his staff were reviewing it Saturday night.
“I thought the puck was there,” Seabrook said. “I was just coming down the wall, and I just tried to finish my hit. … I’m not trying to target his head, and I’m not trying to do anything like that. It doesn’t feel good to see a player lying there like that, knowing that I hit him. It wasn’t my intent.”
Here is the key: The puck wasn’t there.
Was this an illegal check to the head? Was the head was “the main point of contact,” and was the contact to the head avoidable? It looked like it. But the Blackhawks can argue Backes was low and turned into the hit, putting himself in a vulnerable position, and Seabrook made full body contact or at least enough body contact.
Was this charging? Did Seabrook “violently check” Backes “as a result of distance traveled”? The Blackhawks can argue Seabrook had a skate on the ice at the moment of contact, and the standard of enforcement has been that both skates have to be off the ice, so this should not rise to the level of supplemental discipline.
Was this interference? The Blackhawks have no argument. The hit was very, very late. Because Backes lost the puck well before contact, he wasn’t eligible to be hit in the first place.
The violence of the hit should result in a suspension. And if Backes has a concussion, the suspension should grow. Like it or not, if the DPS determines a hit is worthy of supplemental discipline, injury factors into the severity of the punishment.
“I don’t want to comment on it pretty much, other than I’d say that’s the stuff that we’re trying to get out of the game,” said Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. “It’s a dangerous hit.”
What did it do to the Blues?
“It gave us a five-minute power play, won us a game,” Pietrangelo said. “We’re going to take advantage of that. They want to do that, we’ll get on the power play and we’ll score the goals like we did.”
Look, we all love tough, physical hockey, especially in the playoffs. But even if you don’t mean to, you can get carried away and make a mistake. If you smoke someone the way Seabrook did, you not only can hurt him, you can hurt your team – taking yourself out of action because of penalties and suspensions, firing up the opposition.
Remember 2011? Seabrook took a hit from Raffi Torres, then of the Vancouver Canucks, in Game 3 of a first-round series. Let’s not compare the hits. They were different, and Torres was not suspended. But let’s compare the impact. Seabrook was furious, the Blackhawks were furious and that sparked their comeback from a 3-0 series deficit. They didn’t lose until overtime of Game 7.
In the Cup final that year, the Boston Bruins’ Nathan Horton took a late, violent hit from the Canucks’ Aaron Rome in Game 3. Horton was knocked out of the series with a concussion. Rome was suspended for four games – the rest of the series – but the Bruins were inspired. They came back from a 2-0 series deficit and won the series in seven.
Seabrook’s hit has already helped cost the Blackhawks one game. “You’re right there, six seconds away,” said Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville. “The other game was tough. It was tough losing with a buck and change [left in regulation and the lead]. But tonight was brutal.”
The question is whether Seabrook’s hit will cost the Blackhawks even more. “I think rather than going out there and trying to do the same to them, we rallied and really tried to score a goal for him,” said Blues defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk. “We don’t want him to take that hit and not see a result for him. It’s important we go out and do it for him.”
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