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Above the 49: Masterton nod for Pacioretty closes ugly chapter for NHL

By Daniel Fung, Sports Network Columnist

Vancouver, BC (Sports Network) - You don't have to be a fan of the Montreal Canadiens - or even a closer follower of the NHL - to recall the horrific scene of an almost-lifeless Max Pacioretty being taken off the ice by stretcher at the Bell Centre on March 8, 2011.

It's a scene that has been replayed on countless occasions on sports highlight shows across North America.

It's a scene that won't likely make it into the highlight packages at annual NHL Awards Ceremony in Las Vegas on June 20 even though Pacioretty will be among the handful of NHL superstars at the event looking to bring home some hardware.

On Tuesday, the NHL announced its finalists for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy which is awarded to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey and, as has been the case in recent years, the trophy will go to a player who is coming off a significant injury.

There was no injury more gruesome last season than the one Pacioretty suffered that, at the time, was considered potentially career-threatening. Pacioretty was smashed headfirst into the turnbuckle beside the players' bench by Boston Bruins captain Zdeno Chara - a reckless hit that left the Habs winger with a severe concussion.

Chara did not receive any supplemental discipline from the league for the hit, although the incident was investigated by Montreal police. They ultimately decided not to press any charges.

The NHL avoided a major black eye this season when Pacioretty returned to action not only in full health but showing no lingering effects from the devastating hit and went on to have a career season. The 23-year-old saw action in a career-high 79 games - he sat out three contests due to suspension - and also posted career bests in goals (33), assists (32), points (65), game-winning goals (five) and shots (286).

The league, understandably, has tried to downplay the incident since then.

In their official press release announcing this year's Masterton Trophy finalists, the league only referenced the fact Pacioretty missed the final 15 regular-season games and the entire Stanley Cup Playoffs last season "due to injuries suffered on March 8, 2011 against Boston."

They were much more forthcoming with injury details to the other two finalists - Ottawa's Daniel Alfredsson and Toronto's Joffrey Lupul - making specific mention of Alfredsson's off-season back surgery and Lupul's recovery from two back surgeries and a blood infection.

The league would be thrilled to put the entire incident behind it and never speak of it again, but even if the league can never fully walk away from the hit, fortunately Pacioretty has recovered well.

Pacioretty is looking to become the fifth Canadiens player to capture the Masterton Trophy following in the footsteps of Henri Richard, Serge Savard, Saku Koivu and the trophy's inaugural winner, Claude Provost.

The last winner from a Canadian-based team was Jason Blake in 2007-08 with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

04/25 11:25:28 ET