DETROIT – It took nearly two and a half games, but controversy finally reared its head in the Red Wings’ playoff series against Anaheim.
Justin Abdelkader was assessed a five minute major charging penalty, plus a game misconduct, for a powerful hit in the second period on Ducks defenseman Toni Lydman during Saturday’s 4-0 loss.
The play began with Lydman handling the puck in the left corner of the Anaheim zone. Abdelkader came flying across the zone, and belted Lydman almost immediately as the defenseman released the puck.
Abdelkader appeared to make primary contact with Lydman’s chest, then hit the head area on the follow through.
Abdelkader did not appear to throw an elbow into his opponent, though his skates left the playing surface.
Lydman crashed to the ice hard on his side. He was taken off to the locker room following the hit, at 15:11, and did not return to the game.
Initially, officials did not signal a penalty call. After conferring, however, they decided to assess the major and eject Abdelkader from the contest.
Abdelkader was not available for comment afterward, but defenseman Niklas Kronwall offered his interpretation of the event.
“Everything goes really fast out there,” Kronwall said. “I didn’t see (the hit). They said he was coming with too much speed that’s why he got kicked out. I thought the hit itself, just looking briefly at the replay, looked like it was shoulder to shoulder. But, if he took too many strides, that’s how it is.”
While admitting he had not seen multiple replays, Kronwall, no stranger to throwing crushing blows of his own, believes the moment of impact was a legal hockey play.
“You always try and go full body contact,” Kronwall began. “I thought the impact itself was fine. I haven’t seen enough of the replay, but it didn’t look like the impact itself wasn’t the problem.”
Anaheim managed just one goal on the five-minute advantage, though it took just 18 seconds for the Ducks’ Nick Bonino to net a power play marker.
Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau was glad to get the goal, but at the same time was concerned for Lydman’s well-being. He refused comment regarding the actual hit.
“(Lydman’s) got a headache,” Boudreau said. “He’s not feeling like celebrating right now. I’d love to see him back out on the ice tomorrow, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.”
In Abdelkader’s absence, Gustav Nyquist was moved up to the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Should Abdelkader face a suspension for the hit, Todd Bertuzzi could potentially make his return to the lineup for Monday’s Game 4.
Nyquist did not seem interested in entertaining the thought that a potential Abdelkader suspension could mean more ice time coming his way.
“I didn’t see (the hit),” Nyquist said. “Hopefully, Abby doesn’t get suspended. I’m going to play wherever the coach puts me. It doesn’t matter.”
Shots to the head have been under close scrutiny thus far in the NHL postseason. Abdelkader’s hit came two nights after the Ottawa Senators’ Eric Gryba blasted Montreal’s Lars Eller with a vicious, but seemingly legal, open ice hit. Eller attempted to take a blind pass, and got walloped by Gryba.
Eller’s head bounced off the ice following the hit, and it appeared to be the main cause of his concussion and facial laceration. While that hit was hotly debated by analysts as to its legality or illegality, Gryba ultimately was suspended for two games.
In comparison, Abdelkader’s hit seemed equally forceful and, ultimately, may prove just as controversial.
Wings coach Mike Babcock saw nothing illegal about the play.
“(Abdelkader) took the body hard,” Babcock said.
“His shoulder hit his shoulder. The kid went down hard, and they called it a major. He’s a big guy and he hit him hard. I don’t think his arms were up or anything like that.”
Asked about the officials’ delay in making a penalty call, Babcock believes that making tough calls is a part of playoff hockey.
“These referees are no different than the players and the coaches,” Babcock explained. “They’re trying to make the right calls.”
If Abdelkader is suspended, the coach is concerned about the effect it could potentially have on his lineup. While Datsyuk and Zetterberg bring tremendous skill to the Wings’ top unit, the duo depends on Abdelkader to use his physical presence to separate opponents from the puck.
“We don’t have anybody with any kind of weight to play there,” Babcock said. “That’s the bottom line.”