Photo: Geoff Burke
The Washington Capitals had just grabbed some momentum in the third period when TJ Oshie scored on a wrist shot that eluded Ben Bishop. The goal made the game 3-2.
Then Matt Niskanen happened.
Niskanen met JT Brown at center ice like they were two high speed cars were crashing into each other. Brown got the worst of it. His helmet flew off his head. It almost looked like Niskanen had spiked it after scoring a touchdown.
Seconds later, Tom Wilson would crush another Lightning player with a counter-hit. Then Evgeny Kuznetsov would check Brown at center ice, drawing a retaliation penalty from Victor Hedman. Ovechkin would score sensationally on the resulting Capitals’ power play and tie the game. The Caps were rolling.
After the game, CSN Washington viewers voted Niskanen’s play as the one that pushed the Capitals to victory.
I'd have to agree with this pic.twitter.com/kGmd1sQAZq
— Ian Oland (@ianoland) December 19, 2015
“The hit by Niskanen gave the Caps a power play,” CSN Washington’s Alan May said after the game. “It got the Tampa off-kilter. The Caps scored on the power play. It was an amazing hit.”
But was it legal?
The head does appear to be the initial point of contact, which can often draw the attention of the Department of Player Safety. However, there are some nuances to the rule that likely make this a clean hit. A hit can still be deemed clean, despite the head being the initial point of contact when:
Niskanen seems fine on the first bullet. He didn’t pick Brown’s head, his angle was fine, and he didn’t extend his elbow or lunge as he delivered the hit. Brown also puts himself in a vulnerable position, and his posture makes it impossible for Niskanen to avoid head contact on what is an otherwise clean hit.
RMNB verdict: The head appears to be the initial point of contact, but this is still a clean hit. And we’re glad Brown appeared to be okay.
Additional reporting by Patrick Holden.
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