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Montreal Canadiens' Lars Eller tended to following a hit by Ottawa Senators' Eric Gryba (not shown) during second period of game one first round NHL Stanley Cup playoff action in Montreal, Thursday, May 2, 2013. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Montreal Canadiens' Lars Eller tended to following a hit by Ottawa Senators' Eric Gryba (not shown) during second period of game one first round NHL Stanley Cup playoff action in Montreal, Thursday, May 2, 2013. (Graham Hughes/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Maki: Time for NHL to lift the veil regarding discipline on headshots Add to ...

You’d think it would be as simple as, “Crack an opposing player in the head. Feel the NHL’s wrath.”

It happened that way in Game 1 of the Boston Bruins-Toronto Maple Leafs series, with the NHL suspending Boston’s Andrew Ference for his unpenalized elbow shot on Toronto’s Mikhail Grabovski. But not long after Lars Eller of the Montreal Canadiens was stretchered off the ice Thursday at the Bell Centre, his nose spilling blood, his eyes glazed, the prevailing mood among hockey observers was there would be no supplemental discipline for Ottawa Senators’ rookie defenceman Eric Gryba, the architect of Eller’s doom. It was a clean hit, after all.

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How could this be? A player gets taken to a hospital, his attacker gets a five minute major for interference and a game misconduct and there’s almost no talk of even a one-game suspension? Welcome to the arcane world of NHL law and order, where you can flatten an opponent and get suspended, or not suspended, depending on how the rules are interpreted and on what part of the body hits the other guy’s first.

In the Eller incident, slowed, multiple-angle replays showed Gryba never left his skates, may have made contact first with his hips – after Eller had touched the puck – only to use his shoulder to rock Eller in the noggin. A clean hit, many argued. The real culprit being Raphael Diaz, the Montreal defenceman whose so-called “suicide pass” left Eller exposed to getting his head crunched, which lead to his face bouncing off the ice and all that blood being spilled.

Hockey is a contact sport, we get that. And everybody thinks their hits are legal. But as long as the NHL looks for reasons to muddy the water, to say this part of the body hit first so, really, it’s a good check, then contact to the head will continue to happen because players can chalk it up to the speed of the game, the heat of the moment or a lazy pass delivered by the victim’s own teammate.

They also know their game-speed actions will be judged frame by frame, at slow-motion, with the rationale being secondary contact to the head is okay as long as the initial area of contact was somewhere else. And yet here we are: a vulnerable player gets rendered unconscious and the feeling is it was simply a hockey play gone bad.

The NHL will have a telephone conference call with Gryba on Friday but that doesn’t guarantee anything. The league talks about cracking down on head shots of all kinds then looks for ways to compute them. No wonder it has become an issue that divides hockey fans as quickly as a Don Cherry rant.

This being the playoffs, we haven’t seen or heard the end of it.

O.T. in the O.C.

Gustav Nyquist salvaged what could have been a catastrophic night for the Detroit Red Wings, scoring early in overtime for a 5-4 win over the Anaheim Ducks.

While the Red Wings are surely delighted to be heading home with the series tied at 1-1, they also have to be worried about their third-period meltdown. In a span of nine minutes and 38 seconds, Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf, Kyle Palmieri and Bobby Ryan scored on Detroit’s Jimmy Howard to push the game to OT.

Howard should have stopped the Getzlaf goal but had no help on the others. Once again, it was a reminder of just how dependent Detroit had been on defenceman Nick Lidstrom. He didn’t just score points; his positional play and calming influence were just as meaningful.

And yes, the Red Wings called Lidstrom earlier this year to ask if he was interested in unretiring. His answer was no. The Ducks should be pleased about that.

Now who’s Blue?

Something strangely good is happening for the St. Louis Blues. They beat the defending Stanley Cup champion Los Angeles Kings in Game 1 when goalie Jonathan Quick turned the puck over behind his net allowing St. Louis an easy goal. Alex Steen scored it, a fourth-liner.

In Thursday’s Game 2, St. Louis defenceman Barret Jackman, never known for his point-getting heroics, scored the winner with 50.4 seconds left in regulation time. The goal came on a three-on-two rush and was Jackman’s first playoff tally in 23 career games.

The Blues were swept a year ago by Los Angeles and took it to heart. They improved their defence, developed a thicker hide. They’ve gotten better and they believe it.

Last Take

Braden Holtby likes to do eye exercises before each game. TSN showed the Washington Capitals’ goaltender doing his eyeball workout, looking right to left, left to right in rapid fashion, while standing at his team’s bench prior to Game 1 against the New York Rangers.

With the Capitals ahead 3-1 late in the third period, the Rangers’ John Moore took a shot that Holtby appeared to lose in his equipment or maybe his glove, which was well over the goal line and inside the Washington net. The Rangers thought they’d scored. Replays implied Holtby had pinned the puck behind his back using his glove. The officials ruled no goal and the Capitals went on to win proving that some players, especially those who work at it, can have eyes in the back of their head.

Follow on Twitter: @AllanMaki

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