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Blackhawks, Canucks react to Raffi Torres hit on Brent Seabrook

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(Do you think Raffi Torres deserves a suspension for his hit on Brent Seabrook or no punishment at all? Vote in our poll to share your thoughts on the matter.)

In my time following controversial hits, there haven’t been many moments when a coach or fellow player criticizes someone on their own team. Maybe they disagree with the nature of a check behind closed doors, but considering how much these people go through together, it’s stunning that it ever happens the other way.

Off the top of my head, there are two examples of slight criticism of a teammate or pupil: Anaheim Ducks coach Randy Carlyle admitted that Bobby Ryan’s foot stomp had “no place in the game” while Boston Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference wasn’t very happy with a Daniel Paille hit.

To little surprise, Canucks coach Alain Vigneault defended Torres when asked about the situation. In fact, he didn’t even think it should have been a penalty. Here’s a snippet of his comments, via Tracey Myers of CSN Chicago.

“Hockey is a collision sport, there’s a lot of intensity. I compare that hit to (Ryan) Getzlaf on (Dan) Hamhuis, and (Getzlaf) didn’t even get a two-minute minor. I didn’t think it was a penalty.

“Obviously you never want to see a player get hurt, and I understand where (the league) is going with it, but hockey is a physical game. I think each and every one of us wants it to stay a physical game without players getting hurt, but in a collision sport there’s always going to be injuries.”

Vigneault has a point about the considerable gray area between the Torres-Seabrook hit and the check Getzlaf delivered on Hamhuis, which just shows the increasing level of confusion surrounding the way the league polices its players.

Also to little surprise, Blackhawks players and coach Joel Quenneville weren’t especially happy about the hit. Here’s Coach Q’s direct and angry response, also via Myers.

“Brutal, major, absolutely. They missed it. We could’ve scored four goals on that play,” said Quenneville, who added Seabrook did have to go off at the end of the second period “to settle down. We’re lucky he’s a big Western Canadian kid. Someone else would’ve been on a stretcher.”

Speaking of that “big Western Canadian kid,” Seabrook discussed the hit but was wise to be mostly diplomatic about it.

Seabrook said he didn’t have control of the puck and didn’t see Torres coming.

“I don’t know what I was looking at to be honest with you,” he said.

Torres just came off a four-game suspension – the last two regular-season and first two postseason games – for his hit to the head of Edmonton rookie Jordan Eberle on April 5.

“I haven’t watched the hit yet so I don’t want to comment on it,” Seabrook said. “He’s a hard-nosed guy. He’s been in trouble with the league before for doing the same kind of thing. I’m going to leave it at that and let the league look at it and whatever they do is what we have to deal with.”

It’s hardly a shock that the opposing teams hold differing viewpoints about the hit, but it’s a divisive issue with our readers, too. The league faces a tough balancing act between allowing the kind of physical play that is a hallmark of the game and punishing hits that go over the line.

Maybe one of these days, everyone will actually know where exactly that line is.

Here’s video of Seabrook discussing the hit, again from CSN Chicago.

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NBC and NBCSN have you covered for Hockey Day in America

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With two games on NBC and then two more on NBCSN, your Sunday should be jam-packed with Hockey Day in America action. A look at the hockey hotbed of Warroad, Minnesota adds a delectable cherry on top, too.

If you need a guide to this party of pucks and patriotism, look no further than this post.

Washington Capitals at New York Rangers, 12:30 p.m. ET on NBC

John Carlson, T.J. Oshie and the dominant Capitals take on Ryan McDonagh and the Blueshirts. The Metropolitan Division represents some of the NHL’s upper crust, so don’t be fooled by the Rangers being the first wild card while the Caps are tops in the East; both of these teams can go. Kenny Albert and Brian Boucher will be there to call the action.

MORE: For Oshie, ties to Warroad run deep

Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins, 3:30 p.m. ET on NBC

Mike “Doc” Emrick and Eddie Olczyk will be in the booth for this battle between teams that met in back-to-back Stanley Cup Final series in 2008 and 2009. Along with usual suspects like Sidney Crosby and Henrik Zetterberg, these teams feature American scorers such as Dylan Larkin and, of course, Phil Kessel.

Chicago Blackhawks at Buffalo Sabres, 6 p.m. ET on NBCSN

The action shifts to NBCSN as Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks hope to teach Jack Eichel and the upstart Sabres a lesson or two. The Blackhawks are in playoff position, as usual, while Buffalo is rallying to try to make a push of its own. Gord Miller and Joe Micheletti will be your guides.

MORE: Islanders forward Brock Nelson’s journey from Warroad to the NHL

Boston Bruins at San Jose Sharks, 8:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Hockey Day in America’s coverage closes off with this matchup between David Backes‘ Bruins and Joe Pavelski‘s Sharks. Randy Hahn, Andy Brickley and Bret Hedican will take you through this match between the Pacific Division’s top team and a Bruins team fighting to stick in the East playoff picture.

Barkov’s beautiful goal pushes Panthers into playoff position

SUNRISE, FL - NOVEMBER 26: Aleksander Barkov #16 of the Florida Panthers circles the net with the puck against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the BB&T Center on November 26, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida. The Panthers defeated the Blue Jackets 2-1 in a shoot out. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)
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The Florida Panthers just won’t be denied as they end the night in the East’s top eight.

It’s fitting, then, that Aleksander Barkov wouldn’t be denied on his game-winner against Los Angeles on Saturday.

Barkov bursts beyond multiple Kings, fights off what would have been an obstruction penalty and then beats Peter Budaj by the narrowest of margins to give the Panthers a 3-2 lead 15 seconds into the third period. They would never relinquish that edge to Los Angeles, winning their fourth game in a row.

In the process, the Panthers – a team that seemed to be fledgling when it fired Gerard Gallant – now find themselves in the East’s top eight. Heck, they’re actually above the wild card fray by a hair.

Before we get to that … just bask in the glow of this Barkov goal:

Again, it was such a small window to beat Budaj, too:

(If the Panthers’ place in the standings doesn’t sway you into taking them seriously, maybe note plays like that and the fact that Barkov has 20 points in his last 17 games.)

OK, so with this win, the Panthers did some serious leapfrogging. They now rank third in the Atlantic Division (thanks to a game in hand on Boston) and have more points than Toronto as far as wild card concerns go, anyway.

Atlantic Division rankings

1. Canadiens – 70 points in 59 games
2. Senators – 68 points in 56 games
3. Panthers – 64 points in 57 games

Bruins – 64 in 58
Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Sabres – 62 in 59
Lightning – 58 in 57
Red Wings – 56 in 58

From a wild card perspective

Third in Atlantic – Panthers – 64 points in 57 games
Second wild card – Bruins – 64 in 58

Maple Leafs – 63 in 47
Islanders – 62 in 57
Sabres – 62 in 59
Flyers – 61 in 58
Devils – 60 in 58
Lightning – 58 in 57
Hurricanes – 56 in 54
Red Wings – 56 in 58

Everything’s so close that the Panthers can’t pop champagne bottles, but they’re also very much in control over their hopes. While it never hurts to see your competitors stumble, the Panthers can take care of business. They “control their own destiny,” to use silly sports parlance.

And considering how they’ve been playing lately, they might be as tough to handle in the playoffs as Barkov was to stop on that outstanding 3-2 goal.

Stars made Dave Strader’s return to the booth special

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It was a special night as the Dallas Stars beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-3 in overtime, but the most memorable moment wasn’t the win or Antoine Roussel‘s hat trick.

Instead, it was how the team embraced Dave Strader’s return to the broadcasting booth as he continues to fight cancer.

Don’t be ashamed if his comments to the Dallas Morning News leave you emotional:

“This is the first time, to be honest with you, that for four hours I didn’t feel like I was sick at all,” Strader said after the game. “Maybe it was the adrenaline high, but I really, really feel great right now.”

Again, the team really did some great things to welcome him back, but the highlight was saluting him after the game. Incredible stuff.

“What a gesture by the boys … meant so much to me and my wife! Thank you.” Strader tweeted after the game.

As this post notes, Strader is expected to do play-by-play for four more Stars games.

Add allowing center-ice goal to Brian Elliott’s rough season

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So far, there’s just one goal in tonight’s Calgary Flames – Vancouver Canucks game. And it wasn’t a good one.

The Canucks couldn’t manage a shot on goal for more than half of the first period, maybe putting Brian Elliott to sleep … as Alexander Edler scored the 1-0 goal from center ice on Vancouver’s first shot that actually got on net. Ouch.

It’s already been a tough season for Brian Elliott, who came into Saturday with an .898 save percentage.

Elliott was perfect through the rest of the first two periods, so we’ll see if Calgary can overcome that gaffe.

Update: The Canucks ended up winning 2-1 in overtime. Ryan Miller was the better of the two goalies in this one.