Artemi Panarin put on a show for the fans at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, recording his first career hat trick to lead the Blackhawks to a 5-3 win. The performance was capped by an empty-net goal late in the third period to clinch the victory ... and then Keith Yandle decided to take a huge, two-handed, wholly unnecessary whack at Panarin's legs.
Panarin did not get hurt, but it brings up the question of what the NHL accepts as legal on these bang-bang plays late in games. Sometimes frustration boils over late in a close game. Blowing a lead to Chicago surely had Yandle and the Rangers feeling not great. But this was a dangerous play, and one that was not remotely within the confines of the game itself. Panarin had shot the puck well before Yandle started his motion, then was forced to take a stick to the ankles as his prize.
The general sentiment here is often that nobody got hurt, so the league won't do anything. It's just an incidental bit of aggression in a game defined by it. Yandle received no penalty, the league isn't reviewing the play and it seems largely accepted as a fact of life in the NHL.
But it's still a weak play and one that doesn't belong in this league. The NHL should be committed to protecting its players, especially when we're talking about plays that are so easily preventable. This wasn't a brutal hit resulting from the speed and chaos of the game. This was one player taking out his frustration by putting another player in danger with a cheap shot.
Panarin is fine, so there's not much else to say here, but in the future, you would hope that plays like this get more attention from referees and league officials. Just because nobody got hurt doesn't mean we should stop trying to prevent guys from playing Whack-A-Limb in the future.