When a player gets hit from behind into the boards, the hitter is never innocent in the court of public opinon, or as it’s more commonly known these days, “Twitter.”

That’s pretty fair in most cases, but man, do we rush to villify the guy who made the hit, who usually gets deemed “reckless.”

While a few fans may give the hitter a little leeway with the whole “it’s a fast game, things happen” defense, most are rarely convinced.

But the fact is that sometimes the blame falls in a more grey area than people think. If you never make contact with a guy unless you’re chest-to-chest, you can’t defend. So, when you skate in to an opponent not directly facing you, there are three things you may not know that influence how that contact ends up looking:

1) How prepared he is for you.
2) How well balanced/strong the player is (some little guys are sneaky strong).
3) If he’s going to move/turn as you go in to hit him.

There are other variables (got a skate edge in a rut, maybe?) that determine the outcome of a hit, but those are the main three.

Ideally, the guy will see you come, be prepared for the hit, not be as strong as you, and get knocked off the puck. That’s supposed to be the purpose of using body contact in hockey.

But if you chase after a guy passively and don’t bring all the force you can muster, sometimes you end up getting surprised.

Even if you don’t get rocked, sometimes you skate in and give the guy a push and it’s like nothing happened, because he knows you’re there. He’s prepared for the contact.

The following play happens a dozen times a night, and you likely don’t notice it. At the nine-second mark of this clip, Shawn Matthias goes into the corner to get the puck. Kimmo Timonen, who he just jumped by, is coming back into the d-zone. After Matthias makes the play, Timonen gives him a little shove (and I mean little, he just extends his arms into Matthias a bit).

It’s around the nine second mark of this clip - watch how harmless a play it is:

Matthias was stable, and nothing happened. That play happens often, and as a player making the push, it’s what you expect to happen.

Then one time the guy is off-balance and you’re unaware of that, and it looks like you’re the cruelest human alive.

This is the difficulty – when one or two of the above factors isn’t right, it can end up looking like this:

(Not defending the Carcillo hit, by the way – it had far more potential for trouble, and as a repeat offender I agree with the suspension. But sometimes you make a similar push and that d-man’s right toe doesn’t catch, he cuts the net, grabs the puck and heads up-ice.)

Again, I’m not trying to defend any form of hitting from behind, the horrible, unsafe play that it is, this is just an explanation of what can unfortunately happen out there sometimes. That, and to launch a preemptive strike so I don’t look like the bad guy when something like this happens and I say ”I dunno, I didn’t think his intent was malicious” while somebody is being helped off the ice with an injury.

Players need to exercise caution at all times, and I do think we’ve seen an increase in the quality of on-ice decisions in the dangerous areas this season (it was highlighted by the NHL earlier this year, actually).

But when something does go awry in the future, let’s just try to be fair. Sometimes a guy will act like a moron and plow somebody head-first into the boards. Other times it’s just bad luck, bad timing, bad circumstances.

Hey, it’s a fast game. Things do happen.

(Thanks to @dicky_72 for the video link.)