Just four games after superstar Sidney Crosby returned from concussion-related symptoms, another Pittsburgh Penguins player suffered a controversial hit to the head.
Canadiens winger Max Pacioretty caught Penguins defenceman Kris Letang with a shoulder to the head in the third period of Montreal's game against Pittsburgh on Friday, leaving Letang bloodied with a broken nose.
Letang went off for repairs before returning in overtime, and scored the winning goal in a 4-3 Penguins victory.
"I feel terrible that he got hurt and I'm thankful that he came back," said Pacioretty, who suffered a concussion and fractured vertebra last season after a hit from Boston's Zdeno Chara.
"It's a quick decision there. He's coming across the middle, he's got the puck and is maybe in a scoring opportunity. If I let him go, he could potentially score on us. I knew I had to hit him but I didn't want the result to be like that.
"I'm sorry for what happened and I'm glad he's okay."
And he let Letang know.
"He came to apologize, which was a great gesture by him," Letang said.
"I have no clue, I didn't see it," the Montreal native added, when asked if it might be deemed a dirty or high hit. "I was taking a shot, I had my head down. I guess he finished his hit."
Like Letang, other Penguins couldn't confirm if the hit was dirty or clean.
"I haven't seen it but guys are saying it was pretty high," said Crosby, who missed more than 10 months while recovering from concussion-like symptoms. "Obviously his nose wasn't good. I'm sure [the league] will take a look at it and deal with it accordingly."
Crosby returned to the Penguins lineup on Monday, his first game since Jan. 5 against the Tampa Bay Lightning. He took a hit Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman that night, four days after getting caught blindside by David Steckel in the NHL's Winter Classic. The culmination of the two effectively ended his season.
Inevitably, the hit on Letang brought back memories for his teammates.
"Yeah, I think you always do [think about Crosby]. But you try not to think about that," forward Jordan Staal said.
Pacioretty, meanwhile, was diagnosed with a severe concussion and a cervical neck fracture when Zdeno Chara guided him into a stanchion back on March 8.
Both have spoken out time and again about concussions. Pacioretty even started a foundation earlier this month with the goal of buying a Functional MRI machine for the Montreal General Hospital. The machine would allow doctors to better assess brain injuries and make more informed decisions.
No penalty on play
No penalty was called on the Letang hit — which surprised Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma.
"He's shooting the puck from a bad angle, blindside when he got hit and I think [the NHL is] going to look at it," Bylsma said.
Pacioretty wouldn't venture a guess on whether he would be hearing from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.
"I have no idea. I haven't even seen the replay," Pacioretty said.