|On Tuesday, the NHL suspended Niklas Kronwall for one game for this hit to Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kuchera late in the second period of Game 6 at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Getty Images) |
TAMPA, Fla. – The Red Wings will play the biggest game of the year without their biggest weapon on the back end.
Defenseman Niklas Kronwall has been suspended for one game for his illegal hit Monday night to the head of Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov.
It’s a devastating blow to the Red Wings who are now faced with playing Game 7 without their top defenseman. Kronwall has two assists in the series against the Lightning.
“What I do in life is I worry about things that I can control,” coach Mike Babcock said.
Kronwall, who has never been disciplined by the league in the past, had a telephone hearing Tuesday with the NHL department of player safety for the hit during Game 6 of the Eastern Conference first-round series at Joe Louis Arena on Monday.
The hearing stemmed from the hit on Kucherov with one minute remaining in the second period. The 21-year-old was flattened by the hit inside the Lightning blue line. As the Tampa Bay forward made a pass from along the right half wall, Kronwall pinched in before delivering a jarring, back-first hit, his left forearm making significant contact with Kucherov’s face.
The hit looked worse than it was, knocking the helmet off Kucherov’s head. No penalty was assessed by referees Steve Kozari or Dave Jackson, and Kucherov, though he looked initially dazed, remained in the game.
However, the league’s department of player safety decided that the hit warranted supplemental discipline for charging. The league explained their decision to suspend Kronwall because of the “force to which the hit was delivered and the significant head contact that resulted from Kronwall launching into it.”
The explanation continued: “Kucherov is eligible to be hit on this play. Being bent over in a standard puck-carrying posture does not make him exempt from taking a legal hit, which might include some unavoidable contact. However, rather than staying low and delivering a full-body check through Kucherov’s core, Kronwall elevates unacceptably with his skates off the ice prior to contact. It is important to note that this hit differs from countless other hits delivered by Kronwall at this same location on the ice and under certain circumstances.”
It’s a stiff price to pay in Game 7 of a playoff series, especially for a player of Kronwall’s temperament, not to mention his importance to the team.
The Wings will either use rookie Alexey Marchenko or veteran Jakub Kindl in Game 7. Marchenko appeared in the first two games of the series. Kindl hasn’t played yet.
It’s believed that Washington's Donald Brashear was the last NHL player suspended for a Game 7 for what the league called a "blind-side hit" on New York Rangers center Blair Betts in Game 6 of a first-round playoff series in 2009. Toronto's Shayne Corson missed a Game 7 in a 2002 for kicking New York Islanders defenseman Eric Cairns at the end of a fight.
The last Wing suspended in the playoffs was Justin Abdelkader, who sat out Game 4 and 5 against Anaheim for his illegal hit to the head of Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman in 2013.
Kronwall has thrown a lot of these hits without as little as a hearing, let alone a suspension, in his 11 NHL seasons. He has a reputation as a hard hitter, but a clean player, which is why the Wings were surprised by the news of his suspension.
“He’s real important for us. He plays a lot of minutes,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “He hasn’t been suspended before, and he’s been doing these hits all of his career, and not been suspended once.”
Kronwall’s hit certainly isn’t the only controversial one to come out of this first-round series. Jason Garrison left Abdelkader crumpled along the end boards with a hit to the head in Game 5, and Ondrej Palat clobbered Luke Glendening in the head behind the Lightning net midway through the first period in Game 6. Neither Tampa player was penalized.
“I thought it was a good hit,” Babcock said. “I thought it was, you know, he (Kucherov) was leaning back, trying to get out of the way. Kronner’s foot was on the ice when he made contact, elbow tucked in on the side. It went through him. If you go through the series, in Game 2 (Ryan) Callahan did the same to (Danny) DeKeyser. Last night, was it in the second period or the first period, Palat got Glendening exactly the same way.”
Kronwall’s streak of 98 consecutive playoff games will come to an end Wednesday. The last time Kronwall missed a playoff game was in 2007 when he missed the entire postseason with a broke sacrum.