Saturday, May 26, 2018
Tampa Bay Lightning

NHL makes right call not to suspend Lightning's Brian Boyle (w/ video)

NEW YORK

Brian Boyle is not going to be suspended. Nor should he be.

The NHL got it right. But don't tell the Islanders that.

Despite the expectation — some might call it more like the begging or wishful thinking — of Islanders coach Jack Capuano that he should be suspended, the Lightning center will play in Friday's Game 4 despite The Hit.

The Hit has been all the buzz from Brooklyn to Long Island after the Lightning's heart-pounding, come-from-behind, 5-4 overtime victory in Tuesday's Game 3 of the second-round playoff series.

While the Lightning celebrated in its locker room after taking a 2-1 series lead, Capuano was down the hall, seething over the sequence that set up Boyle's winner. Moments before the center tapped in a loose puck less than three minutes into overtime, Boyle laid into Islanders defenseman Thomas Hickey at the blue line.

"It's a direct shot to the head," Capuano said after the game. "(Boyle is) probably going to get suspended a game."

Actually, he won't be. The league determined Wednesday that there was nothing wrong with the hit. It also didn't have a problem with Hickey's thunderous hit on Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin earlier in the game.

Playoff hockey, baby. Hard but clean. Brutal but not dirty. Nothing to see here. Move along. See you Friday night.

And you better buckle up.

But Capuano was livid. Replays weren't super clear, but they appeared to show that Boyle's shoulder struck Hickey in the shoulder or chest, not the jaw or head, as Capuano suggested.

"(The referee is) standing right there. I've watched it numerous times now," Capuano said. "Those are the types of hits we're trying to eliminate from our game. It's just too bad it had to end that way."

Capuano compared the hit to those delivered in the Caps-Penguins playoff series by Washington defenseman Brooks Orpik and Pittsburgh's Kris Letang that earned suspensions. Orpik was suspended for three games, and Letang was suspended for one.

Capuano is way off base to compare Boyle's hit to Orpik's and Letang's. The latter two hits were dangerous — late, high and suspension worthy. The Boyle hit was nothing like them.

Capuano didn't back away from his comments even after having a night to calm down.

"Emotions are high after a game … but I had a chance to watch it, and I just feel the hit was high," Capuano said Wednesday morning. "To me, it's a position where it's an odd-man rush going the other way, too. It's one of those calls that (the referee's) got a split-second decision to make. But I'm going to stand by what I said. I thought the hit was high, and it led obviously to a really good scoring chance for them."

Capuano did not go as far as to call Boyle a dirty player. In fact, he said players at this time of year are trying to finish their checks and do the right thing. As you would anticipate, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he thought there were at least 15 hits in the game that were "harder" than Boyle's hit.

Look, you can't blame Capuano for going off. He was frustrated about the play and disappointed about the loss. He just watched his guy get knocked down by a player who went on to score the winning goal. It capped a night when his team threw the kitchen sink at the Lightning and still lost.

So he spouted off. He's not the first coach to do that. And plenty of other NHL coaches would have reacted the same way Capuano did even if he had looked at the same replays as everyone else and come up with a different conclusion.

New York Post hockey columnist Larry Brooks wrote a column headlined "Brian Boyle Unfairly Cast As Villain For Normal NHL-Playoff Hit." Brooks wrote, "Neither the Hickey hit nor the Boyle check appears suspension-worthy at first, second or third glance. Hits like those are a part of playoff hockey … Eliminate hits like Hickey's and Boyle's, and the game becomes two-hand touch."

New York Daily News writer Peter Botte wrote that the replays were "inconclusive" about where Hickey was hit.

I have to be honest. I thought Hickey tried to sell the hit, and I might even go as far as to call his reaction a flop, but Capuano said Wednesday that Hickey was bleeding from his mouth after the hit.

Islanders star John Tavares said it was "mind-boggling" that Boyle wasn't called for a penalty.

Travis Hamonic, who bumped into Boyle at center ice before the game, prompting a pointed discussion, said, "(Hickey is) laying on the ice; you should make the call. Whatever I can say, I'll probably get in trouble."

So we head to Game 4. Emotions are high. Tensions are high. Stakes are high. It should be a blast.

And Brian Boyle will rightfully be there.

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