TAMPA — The Detroit Red Wings are used to counting on Niklas Kronwall in big games. As they go into their biggest of the season, he’s been counted out by the NHL.
The NHL department of Player Safety announced Tuesday evening that Kronwall has been suspended one game for “launching into a hit” on Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov. That means the Wings will be without Kronwall when they play the Lightning Wednesday at Amalie Arena in Game 7 of the first-round series.
“We disagree with the decision,” general manager Ken Holland told the Free Press. He didn’t want to make any further comment.
In a video announcing the reasoning behind the action, the NHL said the punishment was decided upon because the hit “resulted in significant contact.” Kucherov was playing the puck as Kronwall pinched. Kronwall led with his left forearm as he drove into Kucherov after Kucherov released the puck. Officials did not call a penalty on the play, but the NHL deemed it illegal charging. The NHL also called out Kronwall for his feet leaving the ice before impact, and for making contact with his forearm and elbow.
It’s the first time in Kronwall’s 11 NHL seasons he has been punished for a hit. He was not available for comment, but Justin Abdelkader called the loss, “big. He’s our leader on defense and a leader in our locker room.” Henrik Zetterberg called Kronwall, “really important for us. Plays a lot of minutes.”
The Wings have two reserve defensemen available in Jakub Kindl and rookie Alexey Marchenko. Marchenko was a minus-3 after playing the first two games of the series. Kindl hasn’t played in the series, but of the two, he offers far more offensive upside.
In the hours leading up to the suspension, neither side made much of the hit.
Kucherov went on to finish the game, and afterwards dismissed the incident as part of hockey, saying, “I’m not going to cry about it.” His coach echoed that assessment on Tuesday. “I’m not here to judge,” Jon Cooper said. “Kronwall is a really good player, he hits hard. That’s it. Kuch is going to be fine, that’s all that really matters. We’re good with whatever happens.”
Detroit coach Mike Babcock was surprised there was even a hearing. From his point of view, the incident was no worse than Ryan Callahan coming after Danny DeKeyser in Game 2, or Ondrej Palat ramming into Luke Glendening.
“It was a good hit,” Babcock said. “I thought Kucherov was leaning back trying to get out of the way. Kronner’s foot was on the ice when he made contact, elbow tucked into the side. Went through him. If you go through this series, in Game 2 Callahan did the same to DeKeyser. Last night, Palat got Glendening exactly the same way. “
Zetterberg viewed the hit “many times, a lot in slow-motion,” he said. “When the contact is made, his feet are on the ground. His followthrough hits his head, but he has his arms down, his elbows down, when contact is made.”
Zetterberg might have the best beef with the punishment – three years ago in the first-round series against Nashville, Shea Weber slammed Zetterberg’s head into the boards so hard Zetterberg’s helmet cracked, and Weber was let off with a slap on the wrist.
“I’ve seen a lot worse in playoffs,” Zetterberg said, “and maybe it’s been a fine or something like that.”
Game 7 heroics: There are few things more mythical in sports than the legends of playing in Game 7s. The fantasy is nourished from childhood, and that’s what Cooper wants his players to think of. “It was talked about in our room,” he said. “When you’re a little kid playing hockey in your backyard, whether you’re by yourself or with your buddies, when you score that big goal, I don’t think anybody ever says, hey this is a big goal I scored in Game 1.
“The big goal is always Game 7. And when you’re in your backyard having a blast playing the game you love, it should be no different when you’re doing it as an adult. Part of this whole scenario is, seize the moment, because this is a really, really exciting time and it doesn’t come around that often.”
Game 7 lineups: Other than having to plug the hole left by Kronwall’s suspension, Babcock said he wasn’t planning any changes to his lineup. He hasn’t altered it since Game 3, when Justin Abdelkader returned from injury and Brendan Smith returned from banishment.
Contact Helene St. James: email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @helenestjames.