The NHL suspended Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall for Game 7 of the first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning for his illegal hit to the head of Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov in Game 6.
The National Hockey League (NHL) has suspended Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall for Game 7 of the first-round series against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
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According to an April 28 update from NHL.com's Bill Roose, the league suspended Kronwall, the Red Wings' top defenseman, for his illegal hit to the head of Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov in Game 6.
This is Kronwall's first-ever discipline ruling, per NHL.com.
Kronwall and the NHL's department of player safety had a telephone hearing on April 28. They discussed his hit on Kucherov which occurred with just one minute left in the second period, per the league' official website.
Roose describes the fatal moment:
"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."
Roose adds the NHL's department of player safety decided to suspend Kronwall due to the "force to which the hit was delivered and the significant head contact that resulted from Kronwall launching into it."
The league went into more detail on Kronwall's one-game suspension:
"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 his hit differs from countless other hits delivered by Kronwall at this same location on the ice and under certain circumstances."
"My only comment is I disagree with the decision," Detroit general manager Ken Holland texted to ESPN's Katie Strang on Tuesday.
For his part, Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock defended Kronwall. He told Strang his defenseman was just trying to be physical during a typical NHL postseason game:
"When the hit's there, you make the hit. I don't think anybody's trying to hurt anybody at any time. I think you're trying to be hard. The playoffs are hard. All you have to do is look at every series and look (at) what's going on out there."
Babcock considered the Kronwall hit "no worse than Ryan Callahan coming after Danny DeKeyser in Game 2, or Ondrej Palat ramming into Luke Glendening," per The Detroit Free Press' Helene St. James.
Despite the hard hit, Kucherov returned during the third quarter of Game 6, per Strang.
"I'm not going to cry about it," he told St. James in the aftermath of his team's 5-2 win over the Red Wings on Monday.
Kucherov's coach, Jon Cooper, held no grudge against Kronwall, per The Detroit Free Press:
"I'm not here to judge. Kronwall is a really good player, he hits hard," Cooper said. "That's it. Kuch is going to be fine, that's all that really matters. We're good with whatever happens."
Red Wings left wing and captain Henrik Zetterberg had a far worse experience.
St. James recalls Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber "slamming Zetterberg's head into the boards so hard Zetterberg's helmet cracked" during their first-round playoff series in 2012.
"I've seen a lot worse in playoffs," Zetterberg told The Detroit Free Press.
Game 7 of the first-round Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Red Wings and Lightning will be held at the latter's Amalie Arena on Wednesday, April 29, at 7:30 p.m. ET.
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