COLUMBUS, Ohio — Charlie McAvoy landed a big hit Monday night, one that likely will resonate for another day or two, and it could keep the Bruins’ talented second-year defenseman relegated to the sideline with a suspension for the upcoming Eastern Conference final against the Hurricanes.
McAvoy felt the hit was clean. Not that anyone with Black-and-Gold sunglasses will find that a surprise.
“It was a hockey play,” said the ex-BU back liner. “I had my elbow tucked. I was hitting through him.”
Jarmo Kekalainen, the Blue Jackets general manager, made it clear he didn’t like the hit, but refused to offer a full-throated opinion amid his greater disappointment, the Bruins sending his team home for the summer.
“I don’t want to start complaining about hits after the game,” said the ex-Bruins forward. “But it was pretty. . . if you watched the video of it, I don’t think there’s any . . . I mean it’s pretty clear-cut to me.”
So he wanted McAvoy tossed out? He feels it is suspension-worthy?
“Like I said,’ he added, “I’m not going to start complaining about calls after a loss, but anybody can see that it, was like . . . ”
Oft-acerbic Columbus coach John Tortorella was uncharacteristically close-mouthed, noting only that it was a “big moment in the game,” but otherwise refusing to discuss it.
So what we have here, in the midst of the Bruins high-stepping off to the ECF for the first time since 2013, is yet one more controversial he-said, he-said what-the-heck hit that the league’s Department of Player Safety may or may not deem worthy of supplemental discipline.
On the ice, referees Kelly Sutherland and Steve Kozari, after a lengthy chat in concert with linesmen Pierre Racicot and Trent Knorr, tagged McAvoy with two-minute minor for the big smack on Josh Anderson. The infraction: illegal hit to the head, two-minute minor penalty.
The view here: it appears McAvoy left his feet upon delivering the forceful blow, and that could work against him if DOPS opts to review it Tuesday or Wednesday and consider it for supplemental discipline (in tandem with a phone hearing with McAvoy). As for the contact, it appeared McAvoy aimed for Anderson’s far shoulder, and it looked as if much of the blow was across the winger’s high chest, toward that shoulder. As McAvoy drove through with his own shoulder, Anderson’s head dipped and took contact.
The hefty Columbus winger (6 feet 3 inches, 220 pounds) hit the deck and an agitated, animated Tortorella, his club trailing, 1-0, and season slipping away, pointed to his own head. He no doubt was hoping for a five-minute power play (intent to injure). He didn’t get it. Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, up in Sutherland’s face at center ice, was gently pushed away by the referee. He was dangerously close to getting tagged with at least a minor himself.
Ultimately, McAvoy probably skates free on it, or is suspended for one game at most. The league is ever mindful of criticism, some fair and some not, regarding how it views contact to the head and its overall diligence regarding concussions.
Working in McAvoy’s favor: Anderson was not concussed. He took the belt with only 20 seconds remaining in the second period. He was back on the bench for the start of the third, finished with a beefy 22:06 of ice time (more than any Boston forward), and was all smiles as he chatted amicably with McAvoy in the handshake line. They shook hands and patted one another’s shoulders. Like two guys who enjoyed the pluck and strum.
What did the two say?
“Uhh . . . that’s between me and the individual,” said McAvoy. “We went at it pretty good this series. I have a lot of respect for him. He plays the game as hard as anyone. I mean, it was good to see him back out there.”
McAvoy made it through the entire postgame handshake line with what looked like an NHLPA brotherhood meeting. He exchanged quick bro hugs with two or three of the CBJs, including his old pal Zach Werenski.
So it may be red meat for some — particularly the Columbus fan base — but it sure looked like a big ol’ nothing burger based on all the attaboys in the hail-fellow-well-met line.
“I put my shoulder into him,” said the 6-foot, 210-pound McAvoy when I asked where he targeted the hit. “When I hit, I do my very best . . . I keep my elbow tucked so I don’t get it out there. I hit with my shoulder and try to, you know, hit with as much power as possible. He’s a bigger guy . . . it was a hockey play. I tried to deliver a check. I was penalized two minutes for it. I served it and came back and played.”
McAvoy emerged as one of the club’s top three players in the series, particularly after the Blue Jackets took a 2-1 series lead. He grew more confident and bold with his skating and his shooting, the latter an asset he sometimes has been reluctant to use over his first two seasons.
The collision was similar to one last year when Los Angeles defensman Drew Doughty put a big pop on Vegas winger William Carrier. Doughty was tagged with a one-game suspension.
“Looked like his elbow was down and he went through the body,” said coach Bruce Cassidy, his Bruins with three straight wins over a playoff opponent for the first time since dismissing the Red Wings in 2014. “We killed it off, and off we went.”
So we’re on to North Carolina, the distant sons of the Hartford Forever .500s. The Bruins will need McAvoy to be at least the player he was in the series vs. Columbus. They just may have to wait until Game 2 to get him in the lineup. Maybe.