Because the NHL is supposedly cracking down on late-game message sending and brawling, any player that receives an instigator penalty in the final five minutes of regulation -- or overtime -- is automatically suspended for the following game. The NHL's wheel of discipline, however, has decided to rescind that rule, as Walker will be available for Game 6 in Carolina on Tuesday night.
According to WRAL, Walker will be fined $2,500 while receiving no additional punishment. Here's what Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford had to say on the league's decision, via WRAL:
"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."There was some speculation coming out of Boston on Sunday night that Ward might have suffered a broken orbital bone as a result of the hit, while Bruins head coach Claude Julien said he would be "disappointed" if Walker were not suspended. From Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe's Bruins Blog:
"In reviewing what I saw, I just didn't like what happened. I just don't think there was any need for that. He sucker-punched him once coming into the scrum when [Ward] was involved with another player. He dropped his gloves and sucker-punched him. I don't care what people say about Ward should have protected himself. He had no intentions of getting involved. We asked our guys to stay composed and not fall into that trap. He did just that. A guy with Walker's experience should know better than to sucker-punch a guy."Immediately following the game, Bruins goalie Tim Thomas called the incident one of the worst sucker punches he had ever seen.
Once again it's impossible to figure out the NHL's rationale when it comes to player discipline, while it's difficult to take its stance on eliminating "message sending" seriously when it neglects what should have been an automatic one-game suspension. I suppose you could argue that Walker wasn't necessarily sending a message, but simply responding to his teammate, Matt Cullen, being involved in a skirmish with Ward just prior to the punch. That would be a fair point, but the bottom line is that he jumped into the middle of it and punched Ward squarely in the face, while the Hurricanes racked up 36 minutes in penalties in the third period, including two fighting majors, a 10-minute misconduct, and an instigator penalty that, by rule, should have resulted in an automatic suspension.
The Hurricanes currently lead the best of seven series 3-2, and have an opportunity to advance on Tuesday night on home ice.