In the initial aftermath of Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik getting taken off on a stretcher, a few replays were shown of what happened to Brad Marchand just prior to Shawn Thornton going after Orpik.
While Marchand was on all fours trying to regain his footing after getting tripped up, James Neal connected with the Bruins forward's head with his knee (replay at about the 1:54 mark of the video below).
Based on the replays, it's pretty hard to argue that it wasn't on purpose. Neal had more than enough time to alter his route to get around Marchand, but instead even breaks his stride to glide through the felled Bruin. While in the glide, Neal makes direct contact with Marchand's head, spinning the Boston winger on the ice.
For a different angle:
Marchand managed to stay in the game after receiving attention on the ice for a brief period right after the hit. Neal received a two-minute minor for kneeing. He ended up scoring the go-ahead goal soon after coming out of the penalty box.
It's an incredibly dirty play on Neal's part, though, and shows such a blatant disregard for Marchand. It will certainly draw the ire of the Department of Player Safety and should lead to a suspension.
UPDATE: Neal's hearing has already been scheduled.
James Neal will have a phone hearing Monday for kneeing incident.— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) December 8, 2013
Since it is a phone hearing, Neal's suspension can't exceed five games. It's a tad surprising that he won't have to plead his case in person.
The league has taken a hardline stance on contact to the head and this certainly fits the bill. Neal's case is helped that Marchand suffered no significant injury, but if the Department of Player Safety finds that Neal acted with malice, they should come down hard.
This is not an incident the NHL can take lightly as the Penguins-Bruins contest Saturday night gave Brendan Shanahan and company plenty to ponder.