Kronwall suspension puts Wings in Game 7 bind

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

Tampa, Fla. — With their biggest game to date this season, the Red Wings will be short-handed.

Defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who charged Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov late in the second period of Game 6 on Monday, was suspended for one game for the incident.

While no penalty was called, officials from the Department of Player Safety announced their decision after a hearing with Kronwall earlier Tuesday.

"The significant head contact that resulted from Kronwall launching" himself into Kucherov, along with the force of the hit, were key points for the suspension according to a DPS video analyzing the hit.

Kronwall's hit knocked Kucherov's helmet off, but he returned for the start of the third period.

Game 7 of the first-round series is Wednesday.

This was the first suspension for Kronwall in his 11-year career.

"I disagree with the decision is my only comment," Red Wings general manager Ken Holland said.

Without Kronwall, Alexey Marchenko or Jakub Kindl are expected to play tonight.

Kronwall has played more than 23 minutes in five of the six games in the series, and forms the top shut-down defensive pairing with (Jonathan Ericsson) for the Red Wings.

Several Red Wings players talked about the possibility of losing Kronwall earlier.

"(It would be) a huge loss," forward Justin Abdelkader said. "He's our leader on defense and a leader in our locker room. ... (But) we have guys who are capable of filling in."

The Red Wings were surprised there was even a hearing.

"I'm surprised this is going on, but it doesn't matter what I think," said coach Mike Babcock, who believed there were similar hits earlier in the series without any consequence. "I don't think anyone is trying to hurt anybody. You're trying to be hard, the playoffs are hard. You just look at every series and see what goes on out there."

Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg looked at the video of Kronwall's hit numerous times.

"When the contact is made, his (Krowall's) feet are on the (ice)," Zetterberg said. "His follow-through hits his head, but his arms are down when contact is made."

Lightning officials were content on leaving the decision up to the NHL.

"The league's gonna do what they feel is right," forward Steven Stamkos said. "Looked at it a couple times. I mean, it looks like he catches Kuch up pretty high. But nothing we can do about it right now."

Said Lightning coach Jon Cooper: "I'm not here to judge. Kronwall is a really good player, he hits hard. The big thing out of this whole thing is Kuch is going to be fine, that's all that really matters."