A day after watching teammate Max Pacioretty
lie motionless on the ice before being carted off on a stretcher, many Montreal Canadiens players were still unsure what to think of the Zdeno Chara
hit that resulted in Pacioretty's injuries.
The question that many players simply couldn't answer was whether it was an unfortunate accident that the hit took place exactly where it did on the ice, sending the helpless Habs' rookie head-first into the glass partition that separates the players' benches, or whether there was any intent to injure on Chara's behalf.
"There's a certain level of awareness of where you are on the ice and what you're doing," said Canadiens forward Mike Cammalleri
. "No one will ever know but [Chara]; what he felt or what he thought or where he thought he was on the ice, so I can't answer that."
"He's probably the biggest guy in the league in terms of strength and it's not an easy game for him to play either," Habs defenceman P.K. Subban
said. "He's a lot bigger than everybody else, but that being said, it comes with a responsibility also."
Subban said that physical players like himself and Chara have to be somewhat accountable for the safety of other players on the ice.
"As a player who likes to hit, there's a responsibility on me too, to not hit guys when they're in awkward positions. Hockey's a fast sport, it's not easy sometimes."
For his part, Chara denied any malicious intent in his actions.
"It's been hard, obviously I feel bad about what happened. I was trying to make a strong hockey play and play hard. It's very unfortunate that [Pacioretty] got hurt and had to leave the game. It is in my mind."
Complicating the matter is that Pacioretty and Chara have a bit of a history with one another. In a game between Montreal and Boston on January 8, Pacioretty scored the winner in overtime and then proceeded to shove Chara while celebrating, which irked the Bruins defenceman and led to a skirmish between the two teams.
"That's the whole thing," said Montreal goalie Carey Price
. "They do kind of have a history and that adds fuel to the fire. The only person who knows is (Chara)."
Some of Chara's former teammates in Ottawa and around the NHL were quick to defend the big defencemen.
"I really think it was more bad luck than anything," Senators centre Jason Spezza
told the Ottawa Sun. "It's a physical game, but nobody is trying to hurt each other."
"He's pretty honest and pretty physical," added winger Chris Neil
. "That's what makes him the defenceman he is. He's pretty physical and he finishes his checks. That's part of the game."
"[Chara's] a great guy; a great teammate," said Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel
. "I don't think that he deliberately tried to hurt the guy. I think it's an unfortunate situation where the glass is in the wrong spot."
Toronto head coach Ron Wilson also defended Chara's hit.
"That's just one of those bad luck situations," said Wilson. "Too much attention's going to be drawn on Chara in that situation; I think it was an accident myself."
Not everyone was willing to stand up for Chara however, and some believed that at the very least, he was reckless and used too much force on the play.
"I think most guys try to slow a guy up," said Leafs defenceman Luke Schenn
. "You're not going to push him with that kind of force, and most guys aren't as strong as him. It's just an unfortunate play and you hate to see it happen."
"I thought it was a dirty play. I thought he knew exactly what he was doing," said Vancouver Canucks forward Tanner Glass
. "It's unfortunate that a player got hurt that way."
"I think if you poll 700 NHL players, a good majority are going to say he knows exactly what he was doing and he knows the turnbuckle's there."
Despite a hearing with the NHL on Wednesday, Chara did not receive a fine or suspension for the hit; a decision that set off an ardent debate in the hockey world.
"That's not sports," said Subban of his teammate's injuries. "It's tough to see out there but I'm just happy I'm not the person that has to make the decision on what goes on from here."