Zetterberg was given a boarding major and a game misconduct midway through the third period of Detroit's 3-2 shootout win against Columbus for an incident in which Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin appeared to be injured seriously.
Nikitin appeared to lose an edge and crash feet first into the end boards in his own zone after Zetterberg skated up from behind and put his left hand on Nikitin's lower back at full speed. Nikitin needed help getting off the ice and didn't return – signaling that the Jackets' already-depleted back end might get even thinner for an extended period of time without one of their top two blueliners.
Left Wing - DET
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 25 | PTS: 34
SOG: 148 | +/-: 4
SOG: 148 | +/-: 4
The call against Zetterberg met with much displeasure from the sellout crowd of 20,066 at Joe Louis Arena, who saw the replay and felt Zetterberg didn't shove Nikitin hard enough to warrant the call.
Richards said intent to injure shouldn't be the measuring stick for those type of plays.
"It's that danger area, where guys are going into the boards and at full speed," he said. "When guys are moving, it's dangerous. It's not the physical hit. It's throwing a guy off-balance, which I think in
looking at it ... the hand on the back throws him off balance a little bit. The game is moving so fast now that, again, just a little bit here or there and you're going into the boards at full speed."
Zetterberg explained his side of what happened afterward and expressed remorse for the play.
"The puck went down to the corner and I chased down their defenseman," he said. "I had my hand on his back. I don't think I pushed him hard. He went down. It looked bad. It looks really bad, so I can't blame the referee for giving me five minutes. I really don't know what to say. It looks bad."
The question now is how it will look to Brendan Shanahan, the League's Vice President of Player Safety – who used to be a teammate of Zetterberg's in Detroit.
"You know what? It's up to Shanny ... it's up to Shanny," Zetterberg said of a potential suspension. "Shanny and the League (are) going to review this and see what they feel. The rule is the rule. I made contact and he went down. Hopefully he's OK. I didn't mean to hurt him, and we'll have to wait and see."
Zetterberg hadn't spoken with Nikitin at the time he talked with reporters, but said he would make an effort to talk to him about it at some point.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said the play, resulting penalties and potential suspension are just part of the game now when plays like that happen.
"No, there wasn't (anything malicious), but still that's the way they're calling it," Babcock said. "They're trying to protect the D-men. I talked to [referee] Denny LaRue right away. I just said, 'Denny, is that the way you're calling it?' and he said that's the way. So why wouldn't they [call it]? We're trying to protect the players. It was an unfortunate play. I hope the guy's not hurt."