Florida Panthers defenseman Radko Gudas was injured on a hit from Vegas Golden Knights winger Ivan Barbashev. 

As Barbashev dumped the puck into the attacking zone 6:36 into a scoreless first period, Gudas lined him up for a hit. Barbashev braced for contact, reversing the hit an knocking Gudas to the ice. 

Referee Steve Kozari handed out a roughing minor to Brandon Montour on the play.

There was no penalty for the hit.  Nor should there have been.



Reverse Hits

Reverse hits are a challenging – if unofficial – concept. The National Hockey League doesn’t specifically define them. Typically, a legal reverse hit is one where the player being hit alters their body position so as to brace for impact in a way that would put the hitter at a physical disadvantage.  It’s important to note that the player cannot initiate a hit on a player without the puck; that would be interference. 

From Rule 56:

A minor penalty for interference shall be imposed …  (iii) On any player who deliberately checks an opponent, including the goalkeeper, who is not in possession of the puck

For a reverse hit to be legal, it has to come as part of contact being initiated by the attacking player. Gudas was clearly going for a hit here. Barbashev bracing himself – and blowing up on impact – is legal on this play. 


What About The Head Contact?

There’s no question: there is direct head contact on this hit.  Not all head contact, though, is illegal.  The NHL rule about illegal checks to the head covers the criteria for a penalty: 

A hit resulting in contact with an opponent’s head where the head was the main point of contact and such contact to the head was avoidable is not permitted.

In determining whether contact with an opponent’s head was avoidable, the circumstances of the hit including the following shall be considered

(i) Whether the player attempted to hit squarely through the opponent’s body and the head was not “picked” as a result of poor timing, poor angle of approach, or unnecessary extension of the body upward or outward.

(ii) Whether the opponent put himself in a vulnerable position by assuming a posture that made head contact on an otherwise full body check unavoidable.

(iii) Whether the opponent materially changed the position of his body or head immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.

Let’s take it line-by-line.

Barbashev is responding to an impending hit by bracing for impact, lowering his body slighly in anticipation of the contact. He does not extend upward nor outward to make contact with the head. Any upward movement appears to be after impact. 

Gudas crouches low to deliver the hit. Based on Barbashev’s posture, this contributes to the main point of contact when the two players collide.  Had Barbashev not braced for impact, the defenseman’s head would still have made contact while delivering the hit.   The head contact on this hit is unavoidable; there is nothing that Barbashev can do on this play to avoid such contact on what is a legal body check.


The Impact of the Impact

The Panthers’ blueliner left the ice after the hit and did not return to the game.

“He makes the highlight films because he’s such a physical guy,” said Panthers head coach Paul Maurice. “But the quality of his play is very, very high, so you miss a guy like that when he goes out.”

The Panthers will be glad to welcome him back; Gudas is expected to suit up for Thursday’s Game 3.

“He’s been such a warrior for us,” said Florida’ s Matthew Tkachuk. “All those little things he does that nobody really sees, like the physicality, he’s the leader back there. The way he plays and that style, he’s such an important player for us. Definitely wasn’t ideal for us to see him go down.”

Gudas is no stranger to physical play. He leads all players with 81 hits during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and was second in the league with 312 during the regular season.


Barbashev, acquired at the trade deadline from the St. Louis Blues, has 33 points in 42 games – regular season and playoffs – since joining the Golden Knights. He’s second on the team in postseason hits, trailing only Keegan Kolesar.

The Vegas Golden Knights claimed Game 2 by a 7-2 score, taking a 2-0 lead in the 2023 Stanley Cup Final. Referees for the game were Steve Kozari (#40) and Chris Rooney (#5), with linesmen Kiel Murchison (#79) and Brad Kovachik (#71).