Ryan Callahan wasted no time stirring the pot in Tampa Bay’s second round series with the Pittsburgh Penguins. Early in game 1, the Lightning forward tagged Penguin Kris Letang into the boards head first from behind.
Letang has made repeat appearances on both ends of the discipline spectrum in these playoffs so far, and surely this hit will at the very least be reviewed by Player Safety.
My take on the hit is that it was undoubtedly dangerous. Letang made no indication that he was doing anything other than facing the boards. He was accepting his fate and trusting Callahan to read the situation and act accordingly. Callahan broke that trust in spades, making contact directly with the neck and head area of Letang and skating through him, driving his head forward and downward with no chance for Letang to defend himself. He also used his elbow. Because of the horrific look of the hit and the subsequent injury, this shouldn’t be a will he or won’t he so much as a for how long.
But those two factors shouldn’t really matter. Here’s where the grey area lies. As I said in an earlier article, legal hits from behind happen multiple times in every game. We only had to wait five minutes to to see it, and it was thrown by none other than Ryan Callahan. That’s right.
Fresh out of the box from his 5 minute boarding major that he’s well aware caused an injury, Callahan chased down Pittsburgh’s Ben Lovejoy. Lovejoy happened to be facing the boards, and made no indication he was doing anything else. Callahan didn’t hesitate even a little bit as he skated through the hit and drove Lovejoy into the boards from behind. This was literally his first shift back.
The only thing that saved Lovejoy from significant injury is that he happened to be more upright than Letang so the hit was more into the lower back region, allowing him to keep his head and neck up and hit the boards chest first. This is completely harmless and happens all the time.
The safety of the second hit had nothing to do with any choice made by Callahan. He had the exact same motive in both cases and followed through with his intent. He didn’t consider the positioning of either player. He didn’t adjust himself in any way or try to soften either hit. He didn’t do anything angle wise to avoid hitting square on the numbers. He was going to hit, and drive through the hit no matter what.
That’s a reckless approach to hitting that needs to be addressed. I’m hoping for at least 2 playoff games from Player Safety for the hit on Letang. In my opinion, it should be 5-6 because he used his elbow as well.
Sadly, no one is even thinking about the “routine” Lovejoy hit for the simple reason there was no injury.