May 4, 2011

Fischler Report: Bruins, Ference dodged a bullet

by Stan Fischler

Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference and Montreal's Mathieu Darche collide during their first-round series. (photo: Getty)

One of the most controversial head hits in the playoffs involved Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference almost knocking Jeff Halpern’s block off in Game 7 of the Habs-Bruins series.

After several looks, we couldn’t definitively decide whether the defenseman had intentionally clobbered one of the NHL’s best defensive forwards. Frankly, we’re still not certain, but some respected journalists make compelling points.

Writing for SI.com, Stu Hackel makes no bones about his belief, saying it was “a clear attempt to injure.”

He continues:

“On the play, Halpern was skating deeper into the Bruins’ zone – near where Ference was standing – in anticipation of a pass from his teammate Lars Eller down low in the zone. The pass was intercepted some 30 feet from where Halpern and Ference were and, as Halpern turned to follow the puck, Ference leaned into Halpern and caused a shoulder-to-head collision, flattening Halpern to the ice.

“This isn’t finishing a check. This is an attempt to injure. Although no penalty was called on the play, a disciplinary phone call did take place, indicated the League recognized this was not a mere collision.

“The NHL is reluctant to take strong disciplinary action against players during the playoffs, not wanting to remove them from their teams at the most important time of the year.

“However, the League should be tougher – not more lenient – during the postseason. Defenders of the NHL argue that punishing a wider variety of deliberate headshots beyond those narrowly defined as ‘blindside’ or ‘lateral’ by Rule 48 would result in some sort of ‘slippery slope’ that could lead to a marked decrease in body contact and the game’s appeal.

“Instead, allowing hits like this to be punished with only a slight deduction from a player’s paycheck is what will lead to a slippery slope. Responses to hits such as this one allows for more dangerous play and more risk of injury.”

When I spoke with Hackel after reading his piece, he underlined some cogent points:

“This was not a ‘hockey play,” he said. “The puck was not close to Ference. He knew that Halpern was coming; he looked at him and then made a subtle shift of his torso.

“Furthermore, Hockey Night in Canada caught the whole act clearly.”

Our opinion: Ference got off easy.

Observations

* Matt Cooke promises to be a good boy next season. He’s been spending time with Penguins coach Dan Bylsma, apparently educating himself about rules on illegal hits.

“Unfortunately, I made a mistake,” Cooke allowed. “But since then, I worked on some things I needed help with. I’ve been fortunate to had the chance to deal with some really good people outside of hockey, and I will continue to do so.”

It might help if some of these “really good people” point out that Cooke has made many mistakes. It also might be therapeutic if he visited his prime victim, Bruins center Marc Savard, who may never again play hockey – because of Cooke.

* Steve Yzerman’sfreshman year as Lightning GM has been better than anyone could have imagined. His gutsy hiring of Guy Boucher as coach was just the start of something big. Landing former UMass-Lowell star Dwayne Roloson was a move that could take Tampa Bay all the way to the Stanley Cup final.

Gossip

* The best line of the playoffs thus far belongs to Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau. In response to a question about the effects of a long layoff between series, he explained, “Three days is a long time. Four days you start going, ‘OK, what’s going on?’ And by five or six days, your wife doesn’t like you!”

* Another interesting comment from Flyers coach Peter Laviolette (Franklin, Mass.): “I don’t believe in momentum in the playoffs,” he said. “I believe in desperation.”

* Potential Dallas Stars owner Tom Gaglardi is part-owner of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers. His partners include ex-Blazers Darryl Sydor, Jarome Iginla, Shane Doan and Mark Recchi, the latter of whom may never retire.

Stan Fischler can be reached at FischlerReport@aol.com.