Hossa Torres' latest victim

Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa is taken off the ice on a stretcher after taking a hit to the head...

Blackhawks forward Marian Hossa is taken off the ice on a stretcher after taking a hit to the head from Coyotes forward Raffi Torres during Game 3 of their NHL Western Conference quarterfinal series at the United Center in Chicago, Ill., April 17, 2012. (JIM YOUNG/Reuters)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:03 AM ET

CHICAGO - Give Raffi Torres the belt.

The Phoenix Coyotes goon is the undisputed head hunter of these Stanley Cup playoffs.

And that’s saying something.

Long before his team defeated the Chicago Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime Tuesday, Torres accomplished the ultimate in predatory behaviour.

In one hit, he sent 'Hawks star Marian Hossa off the ice on a stretcher with the head shot trifecta.

In one hit, his feet left the ice to take out one of the opponent’s stars, charging toward them to ensure maximum speed at contact.

In one hit, he lowered his shoulder to make sure he contacted Hossa’s head.

And in one hit, the puck was so far away from the play that Hossa couldn’t have been expecting the hit, even with his head carelessly down.

“We had four (officials) out there who didn’t see it and one of our guys being carried off on a stretcher,” 'Hawks captain Jonathan Toews said. “Of course there’s some (anger). It was frustrating that (Torres) was allowed to stay in the game. It wouldn’t have surprised me if he tried to do something like that again.”

Though it was midway through the first period, the Torres savagery was the flashpoint of what turned out to be a bruising contest won 3-2 by the Coyotes when Mikkel Boedker scored at 13:15 of overtime.

The Coyotes left the building as the villains as well as holding a 2-1 lead in the NHL Western Conference quarterfinal that has seen each game go to OT.

Boedker’s winner was a dodgy one, squeezing a short-side, bad-angle shot past 'Hawks goalie Corey Crawford to add the second dagger of the night.

After Hossa was felled, the crowd of 21,627 at the United Center fell into stunned silence as he laid motionless on the ice for several minutes. He was fitted for a neck brace, carried off the ice and given a police escort to a local hospital before being released later in the night.

“It was a hockey play,” Torres said. “I was just trying to finish my hit out there. The last thing I’m going to say his I hope he’s all right.”

In a statement released after the game, the Blackhawks said testing at the hospital yielded “encouraging results.”

It won’t lessen the outrage here over the incident, the latest to punctuate this violent 2012 NHL playoff season.

“I thought the refereeing was a disgrace,” said a hoarse and clearly emotional Joel Quenneville. The Chicago coach witnessed the sickening hit from mere feet away. “I had a hard time. I saw exactly what happened.”

While the ref-bashing -- a common sentiment on the night -- could earn Quenneville a fine, Torres may take the hardest hit yet from NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan.

The league’s officiating fraternity will be under fire again as, stunningly, not one of the four men in stripes -- including refs Stephen Walkom and Ian Walsh -- saw enough to merit a measly two-minute call against Torres.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, who claimed to have not watched the hit on video, thought Torres was “just finishing a check.” He said it with a straight face, too.

As if the Madhouse on Madison wasn’t already in a frenzy over rookie Andrew Shaw’s three-game suspension for his Game 2 hit of Phoenix goalie Mike Smith -- announced hours before game-time -- the Torres assault on Hossa ramped things up.

The Coyotes, meanwhile, came into the game making it known that they were ready for some mayhem, hinting broadly at retaliation for the hard head hit on their goaltender.

Designated slugger Paul Bisonnette, who was benched for the first two games of the series, was back in the lineup. Captain Shane Doan intimated that Shaw would eventually have to answer for his actions after his head shot to Smith in Game 2.

As much mayhem as there has been so far in these playoffs, it’s hard to argue that any incident has been as deliberately nasty as the Torres shot, an issue that immediately vaulted to the top of judge Shanahan’s docket.

The ‘Hawks looked to be in control Tuesday after Andrew Brunette’s goal in the final minute of the first seemed destined to stand up. But a flurry of two Coyotes goals and one more from the ‘Hawks during a span of less than 90 seconds in the third set the stage for OT.

Talk during the off-day in advance of Thursday’s Game 4 will be all about Torres. Following Tuesday’s morning skate, Torres was asked about his familiarity with playing the villain’s role here in the Windy City. It's an act he’s enjoyed in the past as a member of the Vancouver Canucks. Just last April, he clocked Chicago defenceman Brent Seabrook with a head shot.

“I don’t really worry about what’s going on and what’s being said,” Torres said. “It’s no big deal.”

It is now.

rob.longley@sunmedia.ca

twitter.com/longleysunsport


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