Niyo: Kronwall delivers gigantic hit, but could receive one

John Niyo
The Detroit News
Niklas Kronwall’s big hit on Nikita Kucherov in Game 6 is likely to draw scrutiny from the league’s disciplinary office.

Detroit — There's still a game to be played.

But there's also a case to be adjudicated — maybe — before the Red Wings and Lightning settle this Eastern Conference series on the ice Wednesday night in Tampa.

The Lightning already were complaining about the officiating prior to Monday's Game 6, with coach Jon Cooper at one point urging his players to "bring a gun to a knife fight."

Not literally, mind you. But after their 5-2 win at Joe Louis Arena, they might've had a real complaint with the way Niklas Kronwall leveled Tampa Bay forward Nikita Kucherov as he skated with the puck along the boards with a minute left the second period.

"To be honest, I didn't see it," Cooper said. "The refs didn't call a penalty, so it must've been OK."

OK, that's one take. And it's one that was repeated elsewhere in the visitors' dressing room, which is probably a good sign for the Red Wings. The fact that Kucherov apparently was not injured on the play is another, of course.

But give it a night's rest, and that might change, even if Kucherov's health status doesn't.

Kronwall's huge hit drew a huge roar from the crowd, the fans chanting "You got Kronwalled!" afterward. The Red Wings' own social media team even posted a photo of the hit's aftermath with the caption: "FIRST LOOK: #KRONWALLED"

But you can bet this one will get a second look, at least. And the question is whether Kronwall, the Red Wings' best defenseman, will get anything more than that.

He appeared to leave his feet before making the hit, then delivered an elbow or forearm to Kucherov's chin as he made contact. And though Kronwall wasn't whistled for a penalty on the play — "I thought it was a clean hit," he said later — a review by the NHL's department of player safety seemed inevitable even before the Lightning hung on for the win.

Quintal's call

The second period came to a close with a scrum near the benches, as Lightning players took issue with the hit. Kucherov, who had assisted on all three of the Tampa Bay goals to that point, returned to play in the third period, taking a regular shift and playing nearly 5 minutes.

Afterward, he declined to make a major stink about it, saying, "It's a hit. He made a hit. I'm not going to cry now. It's part of the game. That's why we play here."

That's also why the league employs Stephane Quintal, who succeeded Brendan Shanahan as the NHL's discipline czar after the latter left to run the Toronto Maple Leafs last spring.

But will he really suspend a player — and a player that means as much to his team as Kronwall does to Detroit — for a Game 7 in the playoffs? Like many observers, I'd be a bit surprised at this point. Honestly, when was the last time that happened in this league?

Kronwall, who played a game-high 24:16 in Game 6, has avoided suspension in the past with some borderline hits, perhaps most notably a few years ago when he put a crushing shoulder check on the Philadelphia Flyers' Jakub Voracek.

Spotty record

But the league's spotty record on supplemental discipline has taken plenty of hits again this spring, including last week when Winnipeg's Dustin Byfuglien avoided a suspension after a cheap shot on Anaheim's Corey Perry after a goal. Byfuglien had been suspended four games by the NHL a few weeks earlier for a dangerous crosscheck on Rangers forward J.T. Miller.

The Wings have been left wanting by the department of public safety as well in the postseason, including that infamous helmet slam from Nashville's Shea Weber on Henrik Zetterberg that went unpunished a few years ago.

They weren't happy with a hit by Jason Garrison on Justin Abdelkader late in Game 5 on Saturday, either, though it was a "dangerous hit" — Cooper's words there — from Abdelkader in the team's March 28 game in Detroit that knocked Garrison out of the lineup for the remainder of the regular season and the start of this first-round series.

Abdelkader was the last Red Wings player suspended for a playoff game, missing Games 4 and 5 of a first-round series against Anaheim in 2013 after putting his shoulder into defenseman Toni Lydman's head. That play drew a major penalty for charging and a game misconduct, and Lydman never played again in that series. (Or in the NHL, as he retired that summer.)

But the Wings rallied to win that series, clinching it with a Game 7 triumph on the road.

Wednesday, they'll be trying to do the same thing, with or without Kronwall.