Answering some questions about a bizarre turn of events
Game four of the Eastern Conference Semifinal between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins was an eventful game of hockey. A lot happened in the 60 minutes, but it was one exchange in the first period that stole the headlines and eclipsed a gutty Lightning win.
After a hit where it appeared that the Bruins’ Brad Marchand may have been trying to go low on Ryan Callahan, the two exchanged some words. During this meeting of minds, Marchand licked Ryan Callahan under Callahan’s chin. Neither the hit nor the lick was penalized at the time, nor will they be. The NHL has formally warned Marchand to please just knock it off already.
Hockey is very much out of its depth here. Just about everybody seems confused about what to do next. The rulebook has been called into question, as have the people who enforce it throughout this series.
As a result, Sports Talk Florida is happy to provide a handy Q&A for those people confused by the whole idea of intimidating somebody by licking them.
Q: Why? Why would somebody do that?
A: The intent of a move like this is to tempt his opponent to hit him in a way that runs afoul of the rules. If Callahan had responded to being licked in the face by doing something to Brad Marchand, he would have been sent to the penalty box for doing so. This has happened before, and given the Bruins’ ability to score on the power play it’s quite the skill for that particular team to have. Marchand is the type of player who does everything possible to get in an opponent’s head. In fairness, it is hard to imagine a reaction to this that does not involve, at bare minimum, profanity.
Q: Is there a rule against what Brad Marchand did to Ryan Callahan?
A: Apparently not yet. The league has met with Marchand to tell him this behavior is unacceptable, much the way a Kindergarten teacher would. Without that warning, the NHL could not issue a suspension. As a result, Marchand will play on Sunday under warning of possible punishment should he decide to do it again.
Q: Why does there actually need to be a rule against licking? Should that not fall under existing rules?
A: Somehow this does not qualify as instigating, though it’s hard to imagine why else somebody would do such a thing. It is not considered any sort of game misconduct, although nobody would suggest that it is acceptable conduct within the boundaries of a hockey game. Licking is being treated differently than spitting on somebody, for reasons unknown to Ryan Callahan and others. Evidently, the words “no licking” have to be printed somewhere in the rulebook to punish a player for doing this.
Famously, there is no rule that states a dog cannot play professional hockey. This is not omitted from the rulebook because we all maintain that dream of seeing a border collie on the blue line, but because there is no need for this rule to exist. It’s never going to come up. Still, if you happen to be a dog breeder and trainer, don’t lose hope. Evidently, if something is not written explicitly in the rulebook you are allowed to just do it.
Q: League officials sat down to talk to Marchand about it. How does one have such a discussion?
A: The only real answer is “in a state of exasperated disbelief” of course.
Q: Wasn’t this warning issued already?
A: Reports before this series suggest it may have been, but Marchand has denied being warned before the series and no mention of a previous conversation has been made since Friday night’s incident. It’s likely the initial conversation never really took place.
Q: Is it okay to find this entire situation funny?
A: It would be less okay not to. It is inherently funny. It is weird, and might even be considered a shame in some ways, but it is also hilarious.
Imagine somebody flipping the channels after game four and landing on coach Jon Cooper’s press conference right when he asked: “How would you feel if I walked over to you right now and just gave you one big lick, from the chin all the way up?”
Q: From here, what can the Tampa Bay Lightning do about this?
A: Their best bet is to do nothing. Marchand is going to play. If he gets in their heads, and somebody snaps, it could allow the Bruins to get back in the series. For all his strange behavior, Brad Marchand is still one of the more skilled scorers in the Eastern Conference, and he’s part of a line that has punished any and all lapses in concentration this series.
It is of high importance that the Lightning stay out of the penalty box on Sunday afternoon. When the game is five on five, Tampa Bay has been the better team and controlled the action. It’s those penalty situations where the Bruins have had an edge. The chippier the game becomes, the more that it would favor Boston given what we’ve seen to this point in the series.
Of course, so much more than a lick and a series of non-calls have happened in this series. Brayden Point has reached a new level, and his line has taken the proceedings over. Jon Cooper has seemingly been one step ahead of the Bruins since Monday night’s game two. On Wednesday night, Kucherov and Stamkos played critical roles after being well-handled in the previous games. Players are chipping in in ways well beyond the score sheet, and the Lightning look like they could beat anybody.
On the Bruins’ end, David Pastrnak continues to be a frightening opponent to encounter. Tuukka Rask has been doing as much as he can to keep Boston in the series. They’ve had positive contributions from rookie defenseman Charlie McAvoy, and new acquisition Rick Nash has been highly effective as a scorer.
It’s a shame that these things and more are being washed away in the national narratives in favor of an instigating move from one of the league’s best at pushing the edges of the rulebook.
Now with the focus back on game five, the Lightning have a great opportunity to put the Bruins away on Sunday and make this whole absurd tale into a footnote. The Bruins have provided some interesting tests for the Tampa Bay Lightning, and at times the Lightning look as impressive as they were at any point in the regular season. Boston is sure to not go down easily, and with their top line intact they will be able to pull out all their tricks with their backs to the wall.