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Blackhawks hit hard by NHL’s joke of a justice system

Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hoss(81) Russifalls down after  taking hit from Phoenix Coyotes' Raffi Torres (37) during first period Game

Chicago Blackhawks' Marian Hossa (81) of Russia, falls down after taking a hit from Phoenix Coyotes' Raffi Torres (37) during the first period of Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup first-round playoff series in Chicago, Tuesday, April 17, 2012. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

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Updated: May 19, 2012 8:20AM

If Andrew Shaw’s hit on Phoenix goalie Mike Smith was worth a three-game suspension, what does the Coyotes’ Raffi Torres get for sending Marian Hossa off the ice on a stretcher Tuesday night?

Concurrent life sentences in the penalty box?

Or Player of the Week honors?

You never know with Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s chief disciplinarian.

Chicago anxiously awaits his unique brand of justice.

“I don’t know what to expect anymore,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said. “I don’t think anyone does.’’

Torres wasn’t penalized for a vicious shoulder-to-the-head hit that left the Hawks star immobilized in the first period.

“The refereeing tonight was a disgrace,’’ coach Joel Quenneville said after the 3-2 overtime loss.

This being hockey, no one was saying how badly Hossa was injured, or even if he was injured. He was released from the hospital, and the Hawks said they were encouraged by his test results.

What brought the United Center crowd to its feet in anger Tuesday wasn’t just the hit on Hossa but what had come before it in this first-round playoff series.

Smith had flopped around like a boated salmon after Shaw hit him along the boards Saturday night. It was a terrible acting job by the Coyotes’ goalie, who spun around, threw his gloves into the air and likely would have been heard screaming “Stella!” had he been miked. The only people who didn’t see it that way were Phoenix fans and those who think Adam Sandler should give Shakespeare a try.

Shanahan, who suspended Shaw for three games Tuesday, seems to fit in both categories. The Hawks were without Shaw for Game 3 Tuesday night, and wherever you fall on the law-and-order spectrum, that made some sense. He had hit Smith behind the Phoenix net in Game 2 and received a major penalty and a game misconduct for charging the goalie. There would have to be a reckoning.

But three games for a hit that didn’t knock Smith out of the game?

Hossa was motionless on the ice before taken by ambulance to the hospital. That’s what a cheap shot looks like.

A year ago to the day, Torres, then with Vancouver, did the same thing to the Hawks’ Brent Seabrook. The league didn’t discipline him for that hit. This time?

No one in his or her right mind would have confidence in the NHL doing the right thing.

There wouldn’t be an uproar right now if Shanahan had been consistent in some of his recent rulings. When he didn’t suspend Nashville’s Shea Weber for slamming the head of Detroit’s Henrik Zetterberg into the glass last week, it gave the Hawks hope. Shaw’s infraction didn’t look nearly as violent. More importantly, it didn’t look nearly as intentional.

The unevenness of Shanahan’s rulings makes you wonder what the guy has in his Gatorade bottle. He gave the Rangers’ Carl Hagelin three games for elbowing Ottawa’s Daniel Alfredsson in the head Saturday. Shanahan explained that the suspension for that offense was three games because Alfredsson had exhibited concussion-like symptoms.

Fine, but wasn’t that Smith we saw in net for the Coyotes on Tuesday night? If Smith didn’t have a concussion, why was Shaw’s suspension as heavy as Hagelin’s?

Shaw made a reasonable effort at the end of the play to avoid contact, but that’s not how the NHL saw it.

It was the culmination of a bizarre series of events, or non-events, led by Shanahan. He interviewed Shaw on Monday and then immediately went to radio silence. There was no word on Shaw’s fate for more than 24 hours. Coyotes coach Dave Tippett played his role perfectly, not letting Smith practice Monday and not making his goalie available to the media Tuesday morning. Brilliant.

Shanahan seemed to read deep meaning in Smith’s lockdown, but as the Hawks waited (and waited) for a ruling, it still looked pretty simple:

You either thought it was an intentional hit or you didn’t.

That doesn’t sound too difficult. But pyramids are built faster than the time it took for Shanahan to make a decision. When he finally announced the three-game suspension, the long delay seemed like a quaint frustration. In a matter of minutes, the story went from indecision to injustice.

Shaw’s absence is not a huge loss for the team, but it hurts over a three-game span.

No Hossa? Now that’s a huge loss.

It’s the playoffs, and players can’t be blamed if they have no idea of what’s permissible and what’s not on the ice. The only thing they know for sure is that Shanahan looks lost. Almost as lost as Hossa looked as he was wheeled off the ice Tuesday night.

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