With 1:36 to go in the Thursday night’s tilt versus the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena, the Nashville Predators trailed 3-1. Predator goaltender Pekka Rinne had been pulled and sat on the bench so that Nashville could utilize an extra attacker.
After a faceoff in the zone, Shea Weber put a shot on goal. Nashville’s Patric Hornqvist stole the rebound from Columbus goaltender Curtis Sanford and then put the puck in the net and closed the margin to just one goal.
As Hornqvist began to lift his arms to celebrate, Columbus defenseman Nikita Nikitin shoved Hornqvist and sent him crashing into the boards. No penalty was called on the play.
“I watched it again and I’m shocked,” Nashville head coach Barry Trotz said. “To me, that’s suspendable. A guy can break a neck like that. He scores, he’s unsuspecting, his arms are up and he gets blindsided.”
Trotz should know from experience. He suffered a back injury while at the University of Manitoba that ended his playing career.
“I fractured seven vertebrae when I was younger from being run six feet from the boards,” Trotz said. “That’s where you break backs and you break necks. I went head first into the boards on a play like that. I was shocked, if you’re asking my opinion. I was just shocked.”
Nikitin, acquired from the Blues earlier this season, has no history of suspensions. In fact, he only has 16 career penalty minutes in a little over a season of play. His penalties have resulted from holding, high-sticking, delay of game, hooking and tripping. He has never had more than two minutes in penalties in a game in an NHL game.
The play happened so quickly that Hornqvist never saw it coming and did not have time to prepare for the hit. However, because his back was turned to the play, Hornqvist was not even aware of which player had hit him.
“I got thrown into the boards and there was a big scrum,” Hornqvist said. “I don’t know what happened.”
“I had my back to the game and the scrum,” he added. “I put the puck in the back of the net, went to celebrate and I got run over from behind.
Hornqvist reiterated that the play was over and that he had already slowed down.
“I saw that the puck went in, so I was ready to throw my hands up in the air and then I get run over right into the boards,” Hornqvist said.
Trotz was quick to praise Hornqvist for not retaliating and getting into the scrum after the play in front of the net. Hornqvist came back on the ice shortly after his goal and was in front of the net when Sergei Kostitsyn scored to tie the game with 12.1 seconds left. Nashville would win the game 4-3 in overtime.
“I give credit to Patric,” Trotz said. “I saw (the hit) afterwards. I didn’t see it on the play. I give Patric a lot of credit because he stayed disciplined and he stayed focused and he was a big part of getting it tied up.”
As for Hornqvist, he felt no after effects from the hit.
“I’m fine,” he said.