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Capitals stave off elimination, down Penguins 5-2
USA TODAY Sports

Concussion spotters didn’t have the authority to pull Pittsburgh Penguins star Sidney Crosby from Game 6 on Monday because his head-first collision with the boards is not a “mechanism of injury” that allows that under their guidelines.

Crosby was slow to get off the ice after he became entangled with Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby and defenseman John Carlson in the first period of a 5-2 loss to the Caps in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal. Under the current concussion policy, the league’s central concussion spotter only would have been able to force Crosby out had his head hit the ice or another player.

“Depending on the mechanism of injury, ‘slow to get up’ does not trigger mandatory removal,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told USA TODAY Sports. “The protocol has to be interpreted literally to mandate a removal. ‘Ice’ as compared to ‘boards’ is in there for a reason. It’s the result of a study on our actual experiences over a number of years. ‘Ice’ has been found to be a predictor of concussions — ‘boards’ has not been.”

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Chris Nowinski, the co-founder and CEO of the Concussion Legacy Foundation, told USA TODAY Sports that the league has a “a poorly written policy that should be amended before the puck is dropped in another NHL game.”

“Any head contact is a possible mechanism of injury,” Nowinski said. “I can’t believe we have to say that in 2017.”

The NHL Players’ Association is reviewing the incident involving Crosby, a union spokesperson told USA TODAY Sports. The person was not authorized to publicly discuss the matter. The person added that the union and league review events each week with spotters for training purposes.

Daly said that the concussion spotters don’t take a player’s concussion history into account. Crosby sustained his fourth reported concussion seven days prior in Game 3 of the series and missed the following game.

When asked after Monday’s game whether Crosby was checked for a concussion, Pens coach Mike Sullivan answered: “No.” On Tuesday, Crosby told reporters, he was “checked out” by a doctor after he hit the boards and cleared to play.

There are at least two spotters who monitor every NHL game, although — unlike the NFL’s spotter system — the in-arena spotter is a league official, and there’s no requirement to be certified athletic trainers (ATCs). Also unlike the NFL, the in-arena spotter has no power to remove a player from the game.

Only the central league spotter, who is an ATC and views the games from the league’s office, can call for a player’s removal.

The spotter system, put in place before the season, was added as an extra measure to assist team medical personnel, who still have the primary task of assessing and treating concussed players.