Sports Hockey

STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS

NHL suspends Detroit Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall for Game 7 versus Tampa Bay Lightning

By Terry Koshan, Toronto Sun

Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall battles with Lightning winger Ondrej Palat. (Getty Images)

Red Wings defenceman Niklas Kronwall battles with Lightning winger Ondrej Palat. (Getty Images)

TAMPA - 

Niklas Kronwall dispensed some advice in the Detroit Red Wings’ dressing room late on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.

“You have to stay with it, don’t hang your head, stay positive, flush this one and get back at it,” Kronwall said to reporters after the Wings lost Game 6 against the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning, forcing Game 7 in the Eastern Conference first-round series on Wednesday at Amalie Arena.

The National Hockey League’s department of player safety decided on Tuesday night that Kronwall isn’t going to have a chance to help his teammates try to eliminate the Lightning and advance to the second round of the 2015 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Kronwall, the Wings’ best defenceman, was suspended for one game — a.k.a. his team’s biggest of the season — by the NHL for his hit on Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov in the second period of Game 6.

If you’re looking for something that gives the Lightning a step up, this is it. Kronwall leads the Wings in ice time in the playoffs with 23 minutes, 35 seconds a game in total, and also is the Wings’ top minute-muncher on the blue line during penalty kills and power plays.

In his career, Kronwall has appeared in 104 playoff games for the Wings.

Wings general manager Ken Holland told reporters he disagreed with the league’s decision, but would not comment further.

Of course the Wings don’t like it.

The NHL made the right call, as difficult as it is for the Detroit organization and its fans to swallow.

The intent is to rid the game of head shots, or at least make them less common, and Kronwall charged at Kucherov, launching himself into his opponent and delivering a forearm to Kucherov’s face. Kronwall has narrowed down something similar to that kind of hit to an art form to the point that he stays on his skates.But he didn’t get the timing right and has paid for it.

“What causes this infraction to rise to the level of supplemental discipline is the force with which the hit was delivered and the significant head contact that resulted from Kronwall launching into it,” the NHL said in the video explaining the suspension.

The Lightning won’t mind that Wings coach Mike Babcock has to insert Alexey Marchenko, who was not great earlier in the series, or Jakub Kindl into the roster hole created by the suspension.

Before it was announced, however, the Lightning was not overly concerned with what the NHL was going to decide.

“It’s hockey,” Tampa coach Jon Cooper said. “I am not here to judge. Kronwall is a really good player. He hits hard. That’s it. I don’t know if anything is going to come of this, it’s not for me to decide. The big thing is Kuch is going to be fine. That’s all that really matters. We’re good either way with whatever happens.”

Kucherov had said following Game 6 he “wasn’t going to cry about it.”

Babcock, naturally, didn’t think anything in the form of discipline from the NHL was warranted.

“It was a good hit,” Babcock said before the suspension was made public.

“I thought Kucherov was leaning back, trying to get out of the way. (Kronwall’s) foot was on the ice when he made contact, his elbow tucked into the side. He went through him. If you go through this series, in Game 2 (Tampa’s Ryan) Callahan did the same to (Wings defenceman Danny) DeKeyser.”

Tampa captain Steven Stamkos was asked about the possibility of not having to face Kronwall.

“I don’t think it changes much,” Stamkos said. “He is a great player, a great defender and has made some nice plays out there especially on the power play, but we are going to be prepare either way whether he is in the lineup or not.

“It’s not going to change our game plan.”

Kronwall has played in a Game 7 six times as a Red Wing. It could be a while before he gets the opportunity again.

ZETTERBERG NOT FINDING NET EITHER

Much has been made of Steven Stamkos’ inability to find the back of the net in the series.

The other captain? Henrik Zetterberg figured he has more to show.

“You want to produce more than I’ve done,” the Detroit Red Wings leader said. “I’ve had my looks. Games 1 and 2, I didn’t play good. After that, it has been better. It would be nice to get back on the (scoresheet).”

Zetterberg led the Wings with 66 points in the regular season (17 goals and 49 assists) but has three assists in the series.

Stamkos has no goals and just three assists after scoring 43 goals in the regular season.

“I was wondering if someone was going to get to that,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said following Game 6 when Zetterberg’s lack of production was raised. “There’s not a lot of space for Zetterberg. He has played hard and hasn’t scored.” 

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