Watching Max Pacioretty lying motionless on the ice after being crushed into the glass by Zdeno Chara, I remembered him just before the outdoor game against Calgary. Reporters were asking several of the players how they intended to stay warm in the sub-zero temperatures. Most talked about layering or adrenaline or just toughing it out. Pacioretty sheepishly announced that his mom had sent him finger and toe warmers, to make sure he wouldn't suffer from the cold. With that in mind, I thought of Mrs.Pacioretty, and what she must have felt, seeing her son lying there motionless in the hush of a shocked arena. If the collective horror of the 21273 in the crowd was palpable, it was but a drop in the ocean to the fear and panic that mother experienced as doctors and trainers manouvered her son onto the stretcher. Worse for her, it was the second time she had to witness that this season.
The question everyone will be asking today is whether Chara caused all that fear and horror on purpose. NHL veterans know it's easy to get into Chara's head. While he may not be naturally inclined to violence, he can be goaded and frustrated into making stupid decisions. Brian Gionta knows this. There's no way a guy his size should get the best of a guy as big as Chara, but he does it because he knows Chara will react if harrassed. It's worse when the Bruins are getting trounced.
Last night was the perfect storm of factors for getting the biggest man in the NHL riled up. His team was getting absolutely dominated on the ice by its most hated rival, after a build-up completely out of whack for a regular-season game. The Bruins were being embarrassed 4-0 on the scoreboard, including two goals by relative nobody Lars Eller. On special teams, the Habs were 2-for-3 on the PP and sported a perfect PK, and the Canadiens' speed on transition was forcing Chara and his fellow defencemen into mistakes. That alone was frustrating for the Bruins. Then you factor in Pacioretty.
Chara was unreasonably angry at the kid for pushing him away from the Habs' victory scrum after an earlier Canadiens win in Boston. He went after Pacioretty then. And Pax likes to go plant himself in the area from which Chara's dedicated to moving people away. So, by the end of the second period, when the Bruins were getting Ole'd off the ice, Chara saw Pacioretty coming along the boards by the benches.
At that moment, the guy everyone claims is a lovable, gentle giant off the ice, made an impulsive decision driven by the frustration he so easily experiences on it. Instead of simply interfering with him and stopping him, Chara chose to erase Pacioretty altogether, driving his head into the stanchion. He said after the game he didn't mean to hurt Pacioretty, and the hit was "unfortunate."
Today, the league must decide what to do with Chara. He claims innocence and says Pacioretty exacerbated the damage by jumping into the glass himself as Chara laid the hit. Carey Price says anyone throwing a hit should know his surroundings and the risk involved, and he's right. Suspensions are often determined more by the injury to the victim rather than the intent of the offender, and we have to hope justice is served in that way for Pacioretty.
In the end, the Canadiens proved they are not too small or frail to beat the souped-up Bruins. Both teams came in with the rosters they'll be icing during the playoffs, with huge hype and a deep desire to win. Lack of motivation could not possibly have been a factor, yet the Habs handily won the only fight, then completely owned their rivals for the rest of the game. Milan Lucic's asshole gesturing to the crowd after his futile goal in the third notwithstanding, the Bruins had nothing. When push came to shove, the Canadiens pulled together and played their game, which beats the Bruins game almost every time.
It's just terribly sad that the joy we should be feeling after such a statement game by our team is absent today. There's satisfaction, to a degree, but the horrible vision of Max Pacioretty lying there before his mother's eyes overwhelms the urge to gloat. No matter the outcome for either team, the outcome for that young man is still uncertain. Sometimes, mom's toe warmers aren't enough to fix what's wrong, and we can only hope the brain injury Pacioretty suffered last night will heal quickly and well.