Rome will burn. Or at the very least, he will be singed by the NHL justice system, such as it is.

In a season when no single issue has dominated the NHL's agenda like head shots and in a season when commissioner Gary Bettman took the unprecedented step of unveiling a new player safety department on the eve of the Stanley Cup final, how else can the NHL respond but to throw the book at Vancouver Canucks defenceman Aaron Rome for his vicious and late hit that levelled Nathan Horton of the Boston Bruins on Monday night in Game 3 here?

The concussive force of the blow to Horton's head left him sprawled on the ice, dazed, his eyes glazed, unmoving. As silence settled over TD Garden, the outcome of the Bruins' biggest game of the season – the third of the 2011 Stanley Cup final – was suddenly a lesser consideration, secondary to the health of their teammate.

Attendants carefully braced Horton's neck, gingerly lifted him onto a stretcher and then wheeled him off the ice so that he could be transported to Massachusetts General Hospital. The preliminary reports issued by the team said only that Horton was moving his extremities, so paralysis at least was ruled out.

These being the playoffs, it is unlikely that any sort of firm concussion diagnosis will be immediately forthcoming either. But this was not the sort of incident the NHL needed now, not with interest in the sport at record levels, with television viewers on both sides of the border flocking to watch what is turning into a close and riveting Stanley Cup final.