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(SHAUN BEST)
(SHAUN BEST)

Chara escapes suspension for hit on Pacioretty Add to ...

In a decision that's sure to further enflame the debate over head shots - and enrage Montreal Canadiens fans - the NHL has opted not to suspend or fine Boston defenceman Zdeno Chara for his hit on the Canadiens' Max Pacioretty on Tuesday, which left the latter with a fractured neck vertebra and serious concussion.

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Mike Murphy, the league's senior vice-president of hockey operations, held a telephone conference with Chara on Wednesday and ruled that "this was a hockey play that resulted in an injury because of the player colliding with the stanchion and then the ice surface."

"After a thorough review of the video I can find no basis to impose supplemental discipline. This hit resulted from a play that evolved and then happened very quickly -- with both players skating in the same direction and with Chara attempting to angle his opponent into the boards. I could not find any evidence to suggest that, beyond this being a correct call for interference, that Chara targeted the head of his opponent, left his feet or delivered the check in any other manner that could be deemed to be dangerous," a statement issued by Murphy said.

Chara was given a major penalty and a game misconduct on the sequence.

The incident left several of Pacioretty's teammates shaken.

"That's our biggest fear right there, we put our bodies on the line every night," a sombre James Wisniewski said after the team's practice Wednesday.

"I watched (the replay) once, but I can't see it again," rookie defenceman P.K. Subban said in a low voice.

But like Broadway, the show must go on in the NHL, and so the Habs jetted off to St. Louis after practice, while Pacioretty rested in a Montreal hospital room - it will be his place of residence for a few more days yet.

The talk on Wednesday should have been about Montreal's 4-1 over Boston, or the impending tilt with former playoff hero Jaroslav Halak, but instead it was all about Chara's actions.

Stone-faced Canadiens coach Jacques Martin again urged the league to act, saying "it's not just one incident," and the hulking Chara spent part of his morning explaining himself to substitute NHL disciplinarian Mike Murphy via phone conference.

Martin was careful not to venture into a prognosis for Pacioretty, but it seems obvious his season is over - many players have recovered from similar and even worse injuries, but generally not in the three-and-a-half months between now and when the Stanley Cup is awarded.

Pacioretty was wheeled off the ice with 15.8 seconds left in the second period of the Canadiens' 4-1 victory Tuesday night.

The 22-year-old had chipped the puck past Chara and was skating hard when the six-foot-nine Bruins defenceman rode him hard into the boards near the Boston bench at the Bell Centre.

Pacioretty's head slammed into the glass partition between the benches. He lay motionless on the ice for several minutes before he was taken to hospital, where.

"What I remember about it was the sound - it sounded like a gun: bang!" said Pacioretty's linemate Scott Gomez. "Stuff like that is tough to look at."

Chara was given a major penalty for interference and a game misconduct.

He said after game it wasn't his intention to injure Pacioretty, the two had clashed in the previous two meetings between the teams, with Chara visibly angry at a push in the back after Pacioretty scored a game-winning overtime goal in December.

With a report from The Canadian Press

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