Hard hits going unchecked in today's game

When the Chicago Blackhawks take the ice on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, more than winning the game might be on their minds.

But don’t count on it.

Center Dave Bolland has been out with a concussion since March 9 after taking an elbow to the head from the Lightning’s Pavel Kubina in Tampa’s 4-3 win. Kubina wasn’t given a penalty but was suspended for three games by the NHL.

The Hawks have a chance to tell -- and show -- Kubina how they feel about the nasty hit when the teams collide.

“No one wants to put anyone in a position to put our team down or take a penalty or take a silly suspension yourself,” Jake Dowell said Saturday after practice. “But obviously it’s in the back of our minds that one of our better players is sitting out and we’ll try to play as physical as possible and see how it plays out.”

That’s the toughest words to be found on the subject. Either times have changed or the Hawks are just not one of those teams to seek revenge -- or both. Or maybe the Hawks just aren’t talking about the revenge they seek.

Kubina’s hit was the first of three head shots the Hawks have been victim to over the past month. Marcus Kruger was nailed on Friday by the Blue Jackets’ Jan Hejda, who was given a two-game suspension. Last Monday, Todd Bertuzzi of Detroit hit Ryan Johnson in the head and was kicked out of the game.

So where is the immediate response for these attacks?

“I think the instigator rule makes a huge difference,” veteran Marty Turco said. “If they went back to the way it was, there [were] a few players around the league that took advantage of it and made it an issue for safety reasons. You know, star players getting beat up for no reason. But 90 percent of it was useful. It’s a game of code and respect.”

The instigator rule states if a player clearly starts a fight his team will be assessed a two-minute minor penalty in addition to the five-minute major and 10-minute misconduct penalty the player must endure. Not many players want to deal with those consequences.

“You do want to put a good hard lick on the guy, but what’s done is done,” Turco said. “Things have changed probably, begrudgingly, for the better. You want to take care of it but you don’t want the hockey game all about that.”

Older fans would have expected a melee to ensue after hits like Kubina’s, Bertuzzi’s and Hejda’s but those are few and far between these days. Even an “old schooler” like Joel Quenneville likes to get his revenge another way.

“Each and every year you see less fighting and at the same time you have to be smart about it,” he said. “At this stage in the game we have to win hockey games so [for] getting even, the best thing is: try to win the hockey game.”

Even going back to last year, when Brent Seabrook was knocked unconscious by James Wisniewski the Hawks offered up almost no response in the moment. Then, in this last month alone, the three head shots were given nearly a free pass.

This isn’t necessarily a criticism of the Hawks as much as an observation, because the game has changed. But not only haven’t the Hawks responded to these incidents on the ice, they’ve practically gone out of their way to somewhat defend the aggressors.

Johnson took the steam out of any Bertuzzi criticism.

“I don’t think it was anything malicious, he was very apologetic,” Johnson said. “He came walking in here and said, ‘Sorry,’ as soon as it happened.”

Kruger was even less critical on Saturday, saying he needed to “see the replay” before he could comment if the two-game suspension was justified. Wasn’t he the one that got hit? An elbow to the head usually doesn’t need a replay for the victim, the headache should be enough.

And more than one player defended Kubina claiming he’s “not that type of player.”

Maybe the Hawks are not that type of team. (Which doesn’t mean they can’t win a championship, as proven last year.)

Or maybe the difference is in the attacker. If a noted bad boy performs these acts the response might be more immediate. But the point still stands: the Hawks don’t have the type of team to start melees, and that might be a good thing.

“With the instigator rule it just doesn’t happen like that,” Dowell said. “It has to be when the time is right.”

The bigger issue is: Have head injuries increased, in part, because the instigator rule exists?

Is the current punishment of a suspension a big enough deterrent or would a player be more likely to change his ways if he knew he was going to get pummeled?

“You’d be more apt to change in my mind if you knew you had to pay for it on the ice,” Turco said.

Can they change the rule by Sunday?