Haggerty: NHL finally gets it

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Haggerty: NHL finally gets it

By Joe Haggerty
CSNNE.com

BOSTON The Boston Bruins can finally feel like proper justice was served after one of the horrendous hits leading to a severe concussion has been properly handled by the league.

It didnt really happen with Patrice Bergeron three years ago, and it certainly didnt happen when Marc Savard left a good chunk of his pro hockey career on the ice in Pittsburgh after taking a blindside Matt Cooke elbow to the head.

This time Aaron Rome was suspended for four games the duration of the Stanley Cup Finals, plus any remaining games in next years regular season if there are fewer than four games played in the remainder of the Finals for his too-tardy hit targeted at Nathan Hortons head in the end of the first period. The blow has caused a severe concussion for Horton, and ended the right wingers season prematurely in the most important time of year.

Bruins coach Claude Julien informed the media Horton has been released from the hospital, and getting the 6-foot-2, 220-pounder healthy next season after a long road to recovery is now one of the biggest orders of business for the Bruins.

You want to win it for a guy like Horton," Milan Lucic said. "Hes done so much for us this year and getting us to this point. You can use it in motivation for yourself. Hes had a lot of impact on me as a friend and as a linemate.

In terms of proper punishment, Julien perhaps said it best when all parties agreed the hit was late after Game 3 and that one second, which seemed like an eternity, was enough time for Rome to pull up before he left his feet to bury Horton with a shoulder to the head.

The Bruins have been at the forefront of criticizing even their own teammates at times about head hits this year due to the sensitivity of past injuries to Savard and Bergeron Andrew Ference heard guff around the league for calling out Daniel Paille for a head shot against the Dallas Stars earlier this season and Julien once again stuck with his consistent message that it should always be about protecting the players in the league.

I don't think I've ever changed my approach on that," Julien said. "I said all along, whether it was the first incident in this series, I like to leave things the rulings to the NHL . . . and you move on. I don't want that job, to be honest with you. It's a tough job. I'm one of those guys or one of those coaches that respects whatever they do.

For people that thought I was disappointed with the Alexandre Burrows biting thing, I wasn't. I moved on. In regards to this one here, they made a decision. I think it's important for our whole league to protect our players from those kinds of hits. I support them. Whether you agree or not, you support them. I support them with the Burrows decision and I'm supporting them with this one, as well.

All Bruins players clearly agreed with the favorable ruling from the league, while also putting Horton in their thoughts as they attempt to regain focus on the task at hand.

Earlier in the year avoiding allowing the hit to be a distraction would have been a lot tougher, but this time of year the greater goal, fortunately, is that we want to win that trophy. Thats the big picture. Thats what were focused on, said Shawn Thornton.

While Thornton and the rest of his teammates are fixed on winning the Bruins' first Stanley Cup since 1972, there is also a strong feeling from the Bruins side of things that the NHL is slowly crawling in the right direction. In the last 10 years there had been three Finals suspensions for one game apiece to -- Detroits Jiri Fischer (cross-check) in 2002, Calgarys Ville Nieminen in 2004 and Anaheims Chris Pronger (hit to the head) in 2007 -- so a four-game suspension shows the league is lowering its tolerance for headshots in the NHLs showpiece event.

Teammate or no teammate, you never want to see a guy laying out on the ice looking like hes out of it, Shawn Thornton said. Its not good for anybody.

"Theyre making the right strides, but at the end of the day GMs arent out there to tell players to stop cutting across and leaving their feet to hit a guy, added Thornton. Thats us. Maybe those meetings should be going on at the players meetings rather than the GM meetings. But I think the league is doing a good job going in the right direction where players are being held accountable for their actions.

Joe Haggerty can be reached at jhaggerty@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Joe on Twitter at http:twitter.comHackswithHaggs.

Penguins edge Sharks 3-2 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

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Penguins edge Sharks 3-2 in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

PITTSBURGH - Nick Bonino's main job for the Pittsburgh Penguins is to get to the front of the net and create chaos. The well-bearded forward executed perfectly in his debut in the Stanley Cup Final.

Bonino took a pretty feed from the corner by Kris Letang and beat Martin Jones from in close with 2:33 remaining to lift the Penguins to a 3-2 victory over the San Jose Sharks in Game 1 on Monday night.

Rookies Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary staked Pittsburgh to an early two-goal lead before the Sharks tied it in the second period on goals by Tomas Hertl and Patrick Marleau. The Penguins responded by upping the pressure in the final period and it paid off with Bonino's fourth goal of the playoffs after he darted to the San Jose net in time to knuckle Letang's pass by Jones for the winner.

Game 2 is Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.

Matt Murray finished with 24 saves for Pittsburgh, which began its bid for the fourth title in franchise history by peppering Jones constantly in the first and final periods. Jones made 38 stops but couldn't get his blocker on Bonino's wrist shot. The Penguins threw 41 shots at Jones, well over the 28 he faced on average during San Jose's playoff run.

The Sharks made it to the first Stanley Cup Final in franchise history by rebuilding themselves on the fly. Two years removed from a brutal collapse from a 3-0 series lead in the first round against Los Angeles, San Jose ended a 9,005 day wait to play in the NHL's championship round by relying on a tough, aggressive style that squeezes opponents with a relentless forecheck while limiting chances in front of Jones.

Yet veterans Marleau and Joe Thornton - the top two picks in the 1997 draft held in Pittsburgh who had waited nearly two decades to make it to the league's biggest stage - insisted the Sharks were hardly satisfied after dispatching St. Louis in a cathartic Western Conference finals.

Maybe, but the Sharks looked a step slow - maybe two steps slow - while searching for their footing against the Penguins, who rallied from a 3-2 deficit to edge the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games to advance to their first Cup Final since 2009.

Rust, who surprisingly made the team out of training camp and became an unlikely playoff star by scoring both of Pittsburgh's goals in Game 7 against the Lightning, gave the Penguins the lead 12:46 into the first when he slammed home a rebound off a Justin Schultz shot for his sixth of the postseason, a franchise record for playoff goals by a rookie.

Less than a minute later Sheary, who didn't become a regular until the middle of January, made it 2-0 when Sidney Crosby whipped a blind backhand cross-ice pass to Sheary's stick. The rookie's wrist shot from the right circle zipped by Jones and the Penguins appeared to be in complete command by overwhelming the Sharks in a way few have in months.

San Jose and its group of Cup newcomers regained its composure in the intermission and responded with a big surge. Hertl jammed a shot from just outside the crease between Murray's legs on the power play 3:02 into the second to give the Sharks momentum. Late in the second, Marleau collected a rebound off a Brent Burns one-timer behind the Pittsburgh net and then beat Murray on a wraparound to the far post that caromed off Murray's extended right leg and into the net.