Need to know: Nash leniency an act of fraud

History will record that the Washington Capitals bested the New York Rangers 3-2 in a shootout Sunday night.

But history will not make note of the fraud that was this contest.

Although he did not figure prominently in the official score sheet, the very fact that New York Rangers forward Rick Nash was playing at all makes this game a disgrace.

In the Rangers’ previous game, Nash, perhaps the Rangers’ most consistent forward this season, leaped into the air and elbowed Florida’s Tomas Kopecky in the back of the head during a disappointing loss to the moribund Panthers.

Although the league ruled that Nash was not subject to supplemental discipline because he did not target Kopecky’s head, one wonders what that round bit on the top of Kopecky’s shoulders might represent, because it’s hard to imagine anyone who has watched the video would not agree that Nash did indeed leap into a defenseless Kopecky with a forearm to the back of the head.

The evidence is self-evident.

But the NHL’s version of reality is this: no hearing, no suspension. Nothing except Nash’s presence Sunday, which is a blight on a compelling NHL season already blighted by an unnecessary lockout.

Whether Nash, who was on the ice for the Rangers’ tying goal Sunday after they fell behind 2-0, was a contributing factor or not, the bottom line is that he had no business being on the ice at all.

Given the NHL’s alleged standard for supplementary discipline and the league’s alleged determination to make the game safer, Nash’s attack on Kopecky deserved at least a game, and probably two, given the suspensions handed out recently to Anaheim’s Corey Perry and Toronto’s Joffrey Lupul.

Now, we don’t buy into the conspiracy theories that suggest the lord of NHL discipline Brendan Shanahan cares a whit about the Rangers or Red Wings or any of the other teams for whom he toiled in a career that will shortly (or should) see him inducted in the Hockey Hall of Fame.

But the fact that the NHL’s department of player safety somehow managed to watch Nash launch himself into Kopecky and then agreed that Nash should play in Sunday’s game continues to hammer at the league’s inability to come to terms with what is acceptable behavior from day to day, minute to minute.

No wonder players such as Lupul who have been on the other end of the discipline stick find it hard to figure out just what is acceptable behavior.

Every second that a player such as Nash is on the ice after a reckless play further erodes the NHL’s already paper-thin credibility when it comes to player safety.

If the NHL is serious about reducing the number of dangerous hits to the head and reducing the number of concussions, then there is absolutely no explanation for Nash’s presence in Sunday’s game. Zero.

But the fact that he participated distorts the competitive balance as it relates to the Capitals, the New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, the Philadelphia Flyers -- who lost in overtime to Pittsburgh Sunday -- and any other team within hailing distance of the Rangers.

And no matter how many videos the NHL prepares and no matter how many explanations it comes up with, nothing mitigates the shame that was Nash’s presence on the ice Sunday.