When Milan Lucic barreled into Ryan Miller Saturday night about half a second after Miller beat the bruising Bruins forward to a loose puck, I figured it was just the latest occasion in which goalie gets bundled by an opposing forward. Though it’s not a nightly occurrence, it’s certainly not an earth-shattering event when a goalie ends up on his ass courtesy of the other team. I certainly didn’t anticipate it becoming the Charge Heard ‘Round The World.
But thanks to the Montreal media & fans, Ryan Miller’s need to get “piece of shit” on the record (as well as his reported concussion*), some Buffalo media, the still-bitter Canucks, the percolating hatred for the reigning champs, and the PC-fueled disdain (i.e. pussification) that greets their physical, winning style, Looch’s goalie-splattering collision dominated the hockey world chatter for the last few days. Before Miller had even finished his two-handed swing at Lucic’s knees, NBC’s constantly questioning ProHockeyTalk.com wondered if Lucic should get a vacation courtesy of Shanny Tours. Again, for a two-minute minor charging penalty on a play that happens here and there in the NHL. The last few times it happened didn’t result in this sort of handwringing. In fact, there was none when Brian Gionta concussed Toronto’s starter James Reimer a few weeks ago in a clear-cut case of goaltender interference. You could even argue Gionta’s hit was worse because a goalie is supposed to be (somewhat) protected in his own crease. Certainly many former players and hockey lifers (scroll down for Rick Bowness quotes) feel this way.
Never have I heard calls for a suspension simply for a goalie getting checked and contrary to what you read, it’s not a burgeoning NHL problem. So the whole “that’s the kind of hit they’re trying to get rid of” is bullshit. The offending team is usually dealt with immediately. But in this case, the Buffalo Sabres found their inner-Catherine Tramell and flashed their collective boxes for the world to see by not doing a fucking thing. Not in the immediate aftermath or during the rest of the game. And what happened? The Bs won handily because Buffalo got scared.
A lot of people around hockey, particularly the many pacifist hockey writers who know better than the players what’s good for the game, seem to forget that it’s a game of game of hard contact, emotion, skill, and, yes, physical intimidation. Lucic gave the Sabres the ultimate dare—he steamrolled their fucking goalie halfway to Somerville—and their response was to flinch. Advantage, Bruins. I certainly don’t advocate it as a game strategy but in that particular moment, at that particular time, it worked. Goalie hit, team shrinks, game won.
Rest assured, if this had been Joe Pavelski leveling Dan Ellis, nobody would give two shits about it and there’d be little talk of goalie protection. Alas, it wasn’t. It was a bruising winger on the Stanley Cup champions, a team that is absolutely abhorred in at least two major Canadian markets on either coast (or close to it), crashing into one of the league’s star goalies (though he’s been far from it this year). So when guys like Dave Stubbs, who I’m convinced sleeps in a P.K. Subban shirt, get on their Montreal soapbox, it reverberates around the league and gets talked about more than it needed to be.
But he’s just among the many who, rather than accept this as the sporadic event it was, would rather work themselves into a lather about the “protected” Bruins and make their game stories read like “Game of Thrones” teleplays for dramatic effect. Jay from “Knocked Up” says “black and gold is carte blanche for manslaughter”. Um, ok. I guess.
So what’s gonna happen now? I don’t know whether goalie safety was already on the agenda for the recent GM meetings. But Lucic’s hit placed it right at the top. Chiarelli noted that several GMs felt his player should have been suspended for the hit. So there are discussions about how to handle this going forward. Over the next season or two, I think you’re going to see goalies be afforded the same protection the NFL gives its QBs (i.e. make them untouchable). And Shanahan calling Lucic to the carpet is the first sign of that. Shanny likely had no intention of suspending Lucic when he called for the meeting—after all, where is the precedent? But just by bringing Lucic in and in his subsequent quotes, he serves notice to the rest of the league, in essence, that Lucic’s hit on Miller is the precedent and if somebody does that, or worse, to a goalie again, they’re gone. Credit Shanahan for splitting the difference by making an example of Lucic without actual discipline (and really, what would be the basis for supplemental discipline here?). Now players know: you bundle the goalie, Shanny’s calling.
*—Miller continued to play after the Lucic hit and was never taken to the ‘Quiet Room’ like suspected concussion victims are supposed to (leading one to conclude the Buffalo trainer did not suspect he was concussed at that time). He was also hit again later in the game when Ville Leino rode Tyler Seguin into the net.