Halfway through the second period of Game 4 between the New York Islanders and the Boston Bruins, David Krejci gets his stick up in between Mathew Barzal’s legs. Barzal goes down and the play is whistled dead.
In announcing the call on the ice the officials indicate Krejci will be assessed a major for his act. In today’s NHL any major penalty is reviewable (except for fights). After looking at the play the refs conclude it was a slash and give Krejci a two-minute minor.
How does a penalty go from a five-minute major to a two-minute minor in the blink of an eye like that? While we don’t for sure know why the refs downgraded the penalty this is my best interpretation of the event.
Explaining how Krejci got away with spearing against the New York Islanders
If you’ve seen the play it looks like Krejci pulls his stick back and stabs outwards towards the Islanders star’s groin. In the NHL Rule Book that’s spearing (see rule 62.1). And any spearing that connects with a player carries a minimum five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct.
Krejci’s night would effectively be over with still half the game to play if the review confirms it was a spear.
Krejci’s intent was clear. As a retaliatory act to Barzal’s crosschecking, Krejci was going to use his stick as a weapon to hurt Barzal. But when you look at the way Krejci uses his stick I can kind of see how the refs got to calling this a slash.
Here’s the play if you haven’t seen it.
Looking at the play again what Krejci does is less of a ‘stabbing’ motion, as in pulling in his stick and then sticking it straight out, and more of an upwards sweeping motion. Basically an uppercut, but with the blade of his stick. That could be interpreted as slashing based on the rule book:
"Rule 61.1 Slashing: Any forceful or powerful chop with the stick on an opponent’s body, the opponent’s stick, or on or near the opponent’s hands that, in the judgment of the Referee, is not an attempt to play the puck, shall be penalized as slashing."
It seems that this is what the referees believed Krejci did when looking at the replay after calling it a major penalty.
Is that a ‘chop’? I wouldn’t say so. A ‘chop’ is a downward motion. The rule book also deems any “player swinging his stick at an opponent” as a slash. What Krejci does isn’t a swinging motion either. The. refs seemingly felt what Krejci did was less of a stab and more of a chop/swing. I know this is getting way too semantical, but that’s how the refs went from a five-minute major to a two-minute minor.
I still maintain that what Krejci did was in fact a spear, I’m just trying to make sense of how the refs got to where they got with the final call. The maliciousness of the contact and its pre-meditated nature should still fall under a major penalty, even if it’s a slash.
What About the Crosschecking?
Now I feel like I have to address the crosschecking on the play.
Yes, Mathew Barzal crosschecks David Krejci at least once. Shouldn’t that be called? The rule book has a section for crosschecking, no?
Again, yes. Players aren’t allowed to crosscheck one another out there. But in the playoffs that regularly goes uncalled. It’s why the refs didn’t blow the play dead when Barzal does so against Krejci, or why they didn’t call Marchand for a blatant crosscheck against Barzal moments later.
Should the refs have called Barzal for crosschecking against Krejci? Yeah, of course, they should have. I’d love to live in a world where that is called. I would love nothing more for the officials to call any and all infractions they see, just like they do in the regular season.
But, we don’t live in that world. There are, essentially, a different set of rules when the playoffs roll around. Which is why Barzal isn’t called for one here before Krejci’s spearing.
So if you’re an Islanders fan you can probably still be mad this wasn’t a five-minute major, but at least you know why the refs downgraded the call.