Friday morning, NBC Sports reported that Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas will not face a disciplinary hearing from the NHL following his hit Thursday night against Florida’s Scottie Upshall.
Late in the second period of Tampa Bay’s 3-2 overtime victory over the Panthers, Upshall turned to skate up ice with the puck near the Panthers’ blue line, and Gudas smashed into him, knocking Upshall’s helmet off and sending the winger flying to the ice. Upshall remained down, holding his head for several minutes before skating off.
Gudas had his forearm up during the hit but said it was just to shield himself from the impact.
“I decided I was going to step up, help our forwards to keep the puck in the zone,” he said. “I didn’t want to get hit, so I protected myself. That’s part of the game. I’m going to play the body too. I don’t want to say guys should expect it, but stuff happens.”
During the play, Upshall had his head down, making contact with the head unavoidable.
“Obviously, you don’t want to hit the head, but sometimes it happens if the head’s really low,” Gudas said. “That’s hockey. It happens sometimes.”
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said Gudas and Upshall have a history together but that didn’t play into the hit.
“(Gudas) would have done that to anybody,” Cooper said. “He doesn’t pick and choose. He just plays hard.”
Cooper didn’t think the hit was dirty in any way.
“(The Panthers) have a couple big boys that can run around there a little bit,” Cooper said. “Gudas looks right through that. I think he plays the game honest. He plays the game fair. He doesn’t take liberties on players…
“You need to have guys like that on your team, especially when they can contribute both offensively and defensively. Those are great guys to have, and I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Lightning rookie phenom Jonathan Drouin observed Thursday’s game from the press box after being scratched because of a slight fracture to his right thumb that has kept him from fully participating with the team the past few weeks.
“It’s feeling better, healing,” the 19-year-old forward said. “Every day it gets better. Hopefully, I’ll play soon.”
Drouin said it was exciting watching his teammates celebrate the first victory of the season but is more eager to make his NHL debut.
“Coming in after the game, after we won, it was the first time I experienced the winning side of the NHL,” he said. “It was fun to watch and see the veterans coming in and enjoy the moment. It’s given me a little taste. I’m excited to start playing.”
Drouin’s been able to do most of the things he was able to do before the injury, except take hits.
“Shooting-wise, stick handling-wise, it’s pretty much the same,” he said. “It’s just I haven’t done much contact.”
Tampa Bay Rays starting pitcher Alex Cobb observed Lightning practice from the Amalie Arena stands Friday morning before lacing up a pair of skates and joining in toward the end.
Cobb received some instruction from Cooper before getting a one-on-one tutorial from Stamkos on how to shoot a wrist shot.
“He kind of sandbagged us a little bit,” Cooper said. “(Cobb) said he couldn’t skate or do anything...He’s got a good little one-timer, and he hammers the puck hard. He didn’t fall for the first 15 minutes while he was out there…I was impressed.”
Once off the ice, Cobb hit ground balls to Steven Stamkos, Brian Boyle and Alex Killorn in the Amalie Arena hallways. Judging by the trio’s performance, Rays third baseman Evan Longoria needn’t worry about his job security.
“The one thing, (Cobb’s) a hockey fan,” Cooper said. “Anybody who loves the sport, we love to have them around. He’s invited us out to maybe come out and do batting practice, so we’ll see. That’ll probably be payback, brush us a little up and in.”
If you had goaltender Ben Bishop ahead of Stamkos in the points race following game one, raise your hand.
After his two-line pass to Victor Hedman resulted in the game-winning goal against Florida on Thursday, Bishop is tied for third on the Lightning with one point, ahead of offensive standouts like Ondrej Palat, Nikita Kucherov and, oddly enough, Stamkos.
“I’m going to have to give him some crap,” Bishop joked.
Bishop doesn’t expect the lead to hold up much longer.
“I was fortunate to get that,” he said. “I’m not trying to get assists out there. I’m just glad we got the win and (Hedman) was able to bury that.”