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Patrick Marleau won’t be suspended for Bryan Rust hit; right call?

Patrick Marleau of the San Jose Sharks will not have a hearing for his hit on Bryan Rust of the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final, and thus will not be suspended by the Department of Player Safety.

Marleau was given a two-minute minor for an illegal check to the head at 4:47 of the third period.

Rust left the game for concussion protocol according to NHL on NBC's Pierre McGuire, then returned to the bench. He played one more shift after that at 8:36 but would not hit the ice again for the rest of the Penguins’ 3-2 win.

"Obviously we lost him for the rest of the period. He's day-to-day with an upper-body injury," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "It's a blindside hit to the head. He gets a penalty. I'm sure the league will look at it."

Marleau, obviously, saw it differently and didn’t think the League would suspend him.

“I don’t think so. I kept my shoulder in and elbow in and everything. I just kinda let him skate into me," he said. “I wanted to keep everything down. Didn’t get too up high.”

Was this the right decision by the NHL?

Yes, it was.

There are two things happening on this play, both in Marleau’s favor for exoneration. The first is that he’s delivering a full body check, aiming for the far shoulder of Rust.

NHL

For all the hue and cry about the NHL “taking hitting out of the game,” this is one of those situations where they’re not. Head contact was unavoidable on an otherwise full body check, as Marleau goes through Rust’s body on the play. He doesn’t pick the head, doesn’t target the head.

Rule 48 spells it out: 

“In determining whether contact with an opponent's head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered: Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not ‘picked’ as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.”

If you’re looking for precedent, look no further than Dustin Byfuglien’s hit on Brendan Gallagher last November, that didn’t result in a suspension: 

So you have Rule 48 in Marleau’s favor and a previous, similar case that didn’t result in a suspension.

Furthermore, Marleau’s sort of right: Rust skates into his nameplate. He hits Rust through his hands at the same time as Rust's head hits Marleau in the upper back.

We never like to see players – especially rookies having marvelous postseasons – injured on a play that involves the head. But not liking the result doesn’t mean the play itself warrants a suspension. This one didn’t, and the NHL Department of Player Safety got it right.

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Greg Wyshynski is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Contact him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or find him on Twitter. His book, TAKE YOUR EYE OFF THE PUCK, is available on Amazon and wherever books are sold.

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