The NHL rule for instigating a fight in the final five minutes of a game is clear.
Rule 47.22 reads: "A player who is deemed to be the instigator of an altercation in the final five minutes or at any time in overtime shall be suspended for one game, pending a review of the incident. The director of hockey operations will review every such incident and may rescind the suspension based on a number of criteria. The criteria for the review shall include, but not be limited to, the score, previous incidents, etc..."
NHL Executive Vice-President and Director of Hockey Operations Colin Campbell reportedly reviewed the "incident" and determined no suspension was needed.
He said, "None of the criteria in this rule applied in this situation. Suspensions are applied under this rule when a team attempts to send a message in the last five minutes by having a player instigate a fight. A suspension could also be applied when a player seeks retribution for a prior incident. Neither was the case here and therefore the one game suspension is rescinded."
But despite Evgeni Malkin clearly instigating the fight (hence the penalty and assumed suspension), Campbell could apparently determine that Malkin was not attempting to "send a message" from the video tape.
How this was possible, considering the Penguins were on the verge of being down two games to none, he doesn't say.
This means Malkin's fight was, one would assume, unintentional. Meaningless. His emotions merely bested his mental acuity, and rage forced his fists into action.
While Malkin never meant to send a message, Campbell clearly did; one heard by NHL fans everywhere.
That message was, this rule - like some rules in the NBA - just doesn't apply to "star" players (see LeBron's walk-off, and Dwight Howard's rescinded technical foul). Had it been some fourth liner instigating the same fight, I guarantee you a suspension would have followed.
But not for Malkin.
And what would have been the result of game three had Malkin not been skating for the Pens? Hard to say for certain, yet Malkin tallied three assists in the ensuing game.
Had the Penguins not scored those three Malkin-assisted goals, they would have lost 2-1, allowing the Red Wings to tilt the series in their favor.
That would not have led to the ratings boon the NHL was hoping for. Up three to zilch, and everyone and their mother knows the Red Wings win. It would just be a matter of when.
But by taking game three, the Penguins were back in it, making a real series out of the Stanley Cup Finals.
Was this some sort of NHL conspiracy to aid the Penguins? I, for one, would say yes.
How else can you explain the sudden abandonment of their own rule? Campbell's explanation was make-believe; meant to make it seem the NHL reviewed the case.
Yet with Malkin's name included on the review, you best believe no suspension was ever really considered at league headquarters.
I would not say that the NHL is out to give the Penguins the Cup, but they clearly would not have liked to see a four game blowout in the Red Wings' favor either. If that were to have happened, the hype and story build up prior to the Finals would have vanished in a Red Wings game three victory.
And it nearly had happened with the Wings up two games to none.
By keeping Malkin in the Pens' lineup, the NHL kept them in the hunt for the Cup. And the league kept the spotlight on themselves just a while longer.