Had Nicklas Backstrom not drawn a match penalty for cross-checking Boston Bruins forward Rich Peverley in the face Monday, it's possible he wouldn't even have faced a disciplinary hearing with the NHL.
But the Washington Capitals center missed Game 4 on Thursday night, serving his one-game suspension.
When Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber viciously drove Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg's head into the glass last week, the only thing missing from the wrestling move was a turnbuckle. Yet he received only a $2,500 fine.
That's just one example of the postseason inconsistency of suspensions by vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan, which has players unsure of what to expect.
"It's tough to know what is a suspension and what is not a suspension, but I think [Shanahan is] kind of under the gun, too, with fan pressure and all that stuff," Capitals forward Jason Chimera said. "You suspend one thing, you've got to suspend another thing, too, so it's tough. We don't want to crush people near the face right now, but it's tough to know what's right and what isn't."
Through Wednesday, the NHL handed out nine suspensions and three fines, though it's hard at times to figure, even with Shanahan's explanatory videos, why some offenses drew more games than others. Chicago Blackhawks forward Andrew Shaw got three games for running into Phoenix Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who was uninjured; New York Rangers rookie Carl Hagelin got three for a head shot on Ottawa Senators captain Daniel Alfredsson (who has missed the past two games); yet Pittsburgh Penguins wing James Neal and Senators defenseman Matt Carkner got one game apiece for their respective shots to the head.
Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin said the postseason has brought some dangerous moments.
It is what it is," said Ovechkin, who served a three-game ban for a hit during the regular season. "There's nothing you can do. You never know what's going to happen in a call, what the decision's going to be."
The longest suspension in this postseason belongs to Penguins forward Arron Asham, four games for cross-checking Philadelphia Flyers rookie Brayden Schenn up high and punching him while on the ice.
Phoenix forward Raffi Torres was suspended indefinitely for a hit on Chicago wing Marian Hossa, though no penalty was called.
According to The Score, a multimedia group based in Toronto, of the 51 suspensions this season, 12 came on plays without penalties, including Ovechkin's charge on Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek and Washington defenseman Mike Green's forearm to the head of Tampa Bay Lightning forward Brett Connolly.
"I think you know what you can and can't do," Caps forward Matt Hendricks said. "Not necessarily what's going to be a suspension a hundred percent or not or a fine, but you know what action is going to get reviewed."
A few players couched their comments about Shanahan with the caveat that his is one of the hardest jobs in the league. "No matter what way he decides, one of the parties is going to be upset," Hendricks said.
It's even harder in the playoffs given that a higher standard should apply when a player is taken out with so much at stake. The violence is up in the first round, but so is the punishment.
"You go overboard sometimes. It happens in the heat of the moment. I think that's a lot of what we're seeing," defenseman Karl Alzner said. " I think some of the things are a little more surprising. You're surprised by what people are doing. But we are getting cracked down a little more, which is good."
The postseason often means living on the edge, but the uncertainty over penalties and supplemental discipline adds another dimension. Some players just want to go about their games and not think about it.
"We can talk about it all day, but nothing we're going to do can change," Ovechkin said. "It's all about them, and it's all about their minds."
The solution usually is common sense, though even that's hard to confirm this time of year.
"I try and play the game on the right side of the line so I don't have to worry about it," Bruins forward Shawn Thornton said. "Just play the game hard and try not to do anything stupid, I guess."
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