There was nothing nefarious about the head shot that Tampa Bay's Steven Stamkos took in Game 3 against Montreal on Sunday night. It just happened that a battle for position with the Canadiens' Brandon Prust ended with the Lightning captain being knocked to the ice directly in the path of Alexei Emelin. With no time to avoid a collision, the right skate of the Montreal defender slammed into the back of Stamkos' head, leaving him on his knees, dazed.
For the record, that's not a trained medical opinion. I have no idea whether that hit left Stamkos shaken up, seeing stars, or straight out concussed. But it looked bad. Really bad.
And so did what happened next, because it was so utterly predictable. After being attended to by the team's trainer, Stamkos got to the bench under his own steam -- barely, but he made it -- and headed to "the quiet room" where, presumably, a team physician conducted a series of league-mandated tests to determine his condition.
And then he was right back on the ice to start the third period.
Again, there's no telling how seriously Stamkos was shaken up on the play. The team wouldn't even confirm that he had undergone concussion protocols, so maybe it really was nothing. But his own words are revealing.
"I tried to shake it off," Stamkos said. "Games like this, you don't want to miss any time. I want to be out there as much as I can to help our team win."
CTV reported later that Stamkos said he had a headache but told the medical staff that he wanted to get back in the game.
Which is exactly what you'd expect, right? No one will ever question Stamkos' commitment to the Lightning. This is a guy who tried to come back from a broken tibia after just 12 weeks instead of the expected 20. He's a warrior. But it's not his heart that we should be worried about. It's his head.
Coach Jon Cooper said after the game that both the medical staff and Stamkos decided that he was good to go. But if he really did complain of a headache, then the Lightning may have let the enormity of the moment get the best of them.
Playing hurt is an obligation of postseason hockey, but only when "hurt" refers to ribs or muscles or ligaments or other things that can easily heal over time. Given what we know about the cumulative effects of brain trauma, that's not a liberty a player should or be allowed to take, no matter how important the game.
Hopefully Stamkos is free of any problems today and the incident will quickly be forgotten. But if there are any lingering issues, if the Lightning risked compounding the damage by letting him rush back onto the ice, they'll have some serious explaining to do.