How Montreal Canadiens forward Brandon Prust wasn't penalized for his late hit on New York Rangers forward Derek Stepan early in Game 3, we may never know. With a referee watching the entire play unfold and Stepan having just delivered a pass, Prust altered his angle to cut into Stepan's path and connect well after the puck was gone.
Stepan remained on the ice for a few minutes, causing a stoppage in play. After briefly receiving some attention from the athletic trainer on the ice, Stepan was taken directly to the locker room. On his way to the room, Stepan gave the officials an earful and with good reason.
These are the kinds of hits that the referees should be more sensitive to. It's definitely the kind of hit that draws attention from the Department of Player Safety. At the very least, it's interference due to the lateness of the hit compared to when Stepan released the pass. Even though it was a matter of seconds, Prust had more than enough time to avoid the contact. This was over the line of him just finishing a check.
Based on at least the closest angle, it did not appear that Prust made direct contact with Stepan's head, but rather in the chest. Regardless, it's a reckless play, late and definitely a penalty.
Stepan does need to try to be aware of where he is as he looked down his pass a bit too much there probably.
This will probably be reviewed by the league, but it's less clear if it will be a suspension. It doesn't seem to rise to the level of a Rule 48 infraction of illegal contact to the head as it does not appear that Stepan's head was the “principal point of contact.” It definitely warrants a longer look though.
No matter what the league does, that this wasn't called on the ice is a major disappointment. The referees have to be in control of stuff like that. Prust was looking to stir the pot any way he could in this game, as evidenced later by the fight he had with Derek Dorsett.
By missing that call, the referees opened this game up to be a lot more dangerous than it has to be.
Stepan did return to the game and appeared no worse for the wear, but that could have been a lot scarier a hit if Prust's shoulder was just a fraction of an inch higher. Stepan is pretty lucky in that regard.