Scott Walker escaped a suspension for his punch to Aaron Ward's face late in Game 5, but it had as much to do with Ward's actions as Walker's.
Ward had exchanged shoves with Matt Cullen and Walker before Walker threw a punch that caught Ward in the left eye, as Ward stood with his hands at his sides.
The officials, Tim Peel and Brad Watson, assessed Walker an instigator penalty, which in the final five minutes of a game carries an automatic one-game suspension. But the league ruled Monday that Walker and Ward were engaged in an altercation and rescinded the suspension.
From Ward's perspective, the strategy was clear: Goad Walker into doing something stupid, without responding, to take advantage of the Hurricanes' obvious frustration. Ward's quick intervention to hold back Milan Lucic's retaliation could be seen as evidence of that plan.
So could Lucic's assertion after the game that Ward was OK, while Boston coach Claude Julien was calling in a medivac copter. (Julien already lost whatever shreds of credibilty he had left with his bizarre "Carolina's trap" rant before Game 5, which was equal parts incorrect and disingenuous.) Julien said Monday that Ward was still being evaluated, but would travel with the team to Raleigh.
Ward may indeed have suffered a broken orbital bone, which would be a tough price to pay for taking one for the team, particularly when his sacrifice ended up being moot because the league saw through the gambit. Or he may be just fine for Game 6. Ward's a tough customer, as Canes fans would know, and he's also a savvy veteran. No one punches Ward in the face without his permission.
I have been critical of the NHL's supplementary-discipline policy over the years, and for good reason, but this was one case where the process worked, so full marks to Colin Campbell and series supervisor Kay Whitmore, whose game report would have held the most weight in deliberations.
For hockey fans, not necessarily Bruins or Canes fans, the best part of this was the wonderfully passive-aggressive official statement from Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford:
“We are satisfied with the league’s ruling,” said Hurricanes President and General Manager Jim Rutherford. “After our team received several punches throughout the series leading up to Game 5, it was a matter of time before one was going to be thrown back.”
That has to go down as one of the best bits of playoff gamesmanship in recent years.