Punishment for hits to head prevalent early in NHL playoffs

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George Parros is a busy man early in the Stanley Cup playoffs thanks to a rash of questionable hits around the NHL.

The vice president of player safety’s department suspended Toronto Maple Leafs center Nazem Kadri three games for boarding Boston forward Tommy Wingels in what the league called a hit made in the name of retribution and Los Angeles Kings defenseman Drew Doughty one game for an illegal check to the head on Vegas forward William Carrier.

With two suspensions, two misconduct ejections for boarding that resulted in injuries, plus Capitals winger Tom Wilson‘s hit to the head that knocked Columbus center Alexander Wennberg out of the game, it has been a rough start to the playoffs – and there have only been eight games played. In 1,271 regular-season games, there were a total of 37 game misconducts and 22 suspensions.

The NHL has made a concerted effort to rid its game of fighting and questionable hits, wanting to keep skilled players on the ice and boost scoring. In the postseason, goals are usually harder to come by and the adrenaline of the moment brings hard hits that cross the line; a year ago, Penguins star Sidney Crosby missed a game with a concussion after a cross-check to the head from the Capitals’ Matt Niskanen.

Kadri was tossed from Toronto’s Game 1 loss at Boston for boarding Wingels, and Blue Jackets winger Josh Anderson was thrown out of their overtime victory at Washington for a hit from behind that injured Capitals defenseman Michal Kempny.

A game misconduct will likely suffice for Anderson, but Kadri wasn’t as fortunate and will miss Games 2, 3 and 4.

”I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him when he was down like that,” Kadri said after Thursday night’s game. ”Obviously, if he’s still standing up, I think there’s nothing wrong with that, but he ended up falling and reaching for the puck, and I’m not sure what happened after that.”

What happened was another Bruins goal on the ensuing power play that made it 5-1 in the first game between the bitter rivals. Down the East Coast, Wilson’s hit on Wennberg allowed the Blue Jackets to tie the score in a game they won in overtime. Wilson blamed himself for costing Washington Game 1 by taking a bad penalty at a critical moment.

”I’ve got to be better and maybe pass up on that hit,” Wilson said. ”We’ve got the lead there so maybe a big hit’s not needed. It’s the playoffs. Trying to finish your checks, and unfortunately I took a penalty.”

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

Wilson was suspended two preseason games for interference and then for the first four regular-season games for boarding but had cleaned up his game since. Part of that stemmed from meeting with Parros in Calgary in the fall and educating himself on what’s acceptable and what the NHL looks for.

”We had a meeting, me, him and Parros, and went over videos and just what they were looking at when he was being considered for suspensions and fines and other examples throughout the league,” Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan said.

Parros spent almost a decade as an NHL enforcer and finished his career with 159 fights and 1,127 penalty minutes. When he took over the league’s player safety department last September, he said he intended to crack down on ”non-hockey plays” that have nothing to do with affecting the course of the game.

Some of the hits may alter series because of the resulting injuries.

Carrier, Kempny, Wennberg and Wingels are all day-to-day with ”upper-body” injuries – the customarily vague description in the NHL – with their statuses legitimately uncertain moving forward. Columbus general manager Jermo Kekalainen called Wennberg ”doubtful” for Game 2 Sunday at Washington and considered it a ”dangerous hit” by Wilson that the league deemed wasn’t worthy of further punishment.

Doughty, a Norris Trophy contender and Los Angeles’ top defender, was suspended for Friday night’s Game 2 against Vegas for what the league called an avoidable hit to Carrier’s head. Kadri’s hit came after Wingels crushed Toronto forward Mitch Marner, but the timing and force of the hit made it worse.

”The bottom line is, you always have to be disciplined at all times and emotions are a part of the game, but it’s got to be controlled,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said.

Kekalainen disagreed with officials giving Anderson a five-minute major and a game misconduct for his hit on Kempny, which was definitely a minor penalty but seemed less egregious than Wilson’s later. That didn’t stop Capitals coach Barry Trotz from voicing his displeasure with Anderson’s play.

”I thought there’s clearly numbers there,” Trotz said. ”Trying to get that out of the game.”

Follow Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More NHL hockey: https://apnews.com/tag/NHLhockey

Bruins set NHL record with 12 straight home wins to start season

Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
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BOSTON — The Boston Bruins set the NHL record for most home victories to start a season with their 12th straight, topping the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2 in overtime with a power-play goal from David Pastrnak.

The Bruins broke the mark of 11 that was set by the 1963-64 Chicago Blackhawks and equaled by the Florida Panthers last season.

“That felt awesome,” Bruins first-year coach Jim Montgomery said. “We talked about it after the second (period) going into the third. There’s been a lot of great teams in this league and you’re able to set a precedent, break a record. It’s pretty special and it doesn’t happen if those guys don’t believe in themselves like they do.”

Boston, which trailed 2-0 late in the second period, tied it with 9:33 left in regulation when David Krejci scored his second of the game on a shot from the right point.

“It’s never fun being down going into the third, you’re sitting in here (in the locker room) trying to figure it out,” Krejci said. “You want to come out and do the job, something special on the line. It’s hard to win in this league. To get 12 in a row at home is pretty special.”

In overtime, Carolina was playing shorthanded after being called for too many men on the ice when Pastrnak one-timed a pass from Brad Marchand inside the far post from above the left circle.

“It was a big win for us, obviously, coming from behind,” Pastrnak said.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Stefan Noesen each scored a power-play goal for Carolina, and Pyotr Kochetkov made 38 saves. The Hurricanes lost their fifth straight.

In a rematch of last spring’s opening-round playoff series that the Hurricanes won in seven games, Carolina shutout the NHL’s highest scoring team for nearly two periods and jumped ahead a pair of power-play goals in the opening period.

“We took too many penalties. That’s hurting us right now,” Kotaniemi said. “I think 5-on-5 we’re doing a really good job. We started good tonight and couldn’t keep that up.”

Boston’s tying goal was originally disallowed because of goaltender interference on Nick Foligno but overturned on a coach’s challenge after it was ruled that he was nudged into the crease by Carolina defenseman Brett Pesce.

Boston starting goaltender Linus Ullmark made 28 saves but had to leave with 13:03 left in the third period with an undisclosed upper-body injury. Teammate Connor Clifton had jumped on him to block a shot during a scramble. Jeremy Swayman made six stops in relief.

Carolina’s Noesen scored at 6:34 in to make it 1-0. And with five minutes left in the period, Kotkaniemi collected the puck near the side of the net after Seth Jarvis‘ shot bounced off the back glass and slipped it inside the post at 15:05.

Krejci scored for Boston with 31 seconds left in the second.

Boston came in with a league-high 82 goals in 20 games (4.10 per game), but it was held to relatively few chances despite getting a 5-on-3 power-play advantage early on.

TAKE NOTE

The Bruins honored captain Patrice Bergeron, who recorded his 1,000th career point when the team was on the road against Tampa Bay, with a message on the Jumbotron. The crowd gave him a standing ovation.

Bergeron became just the fourth Bruin to reach the mark, joining Hall of Famers Ray Bourque (1,506), Johnny Bucyk (1,339) and Phil Esposito (1,012).

UP NEXT

Hurricanes: Host the Calgary Flames.

Bruins: Host the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Predators postpone 2 games due to Nashville water main break

Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. —  The Nashville Predators postponed two home games because of a water main break that soaked their downtown arena.

Hours after the Predators decided they couldn’t play against the Colorado Avalanche, the team announced it also postponed the game against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Makeup dates for the two games will be announced later.

The NHL said the water main break that occurred “significantly impacted the event level” of Bridgestone Arena. Team locker rooms and the ice surface are on the event level.

Predators President and CEO Sean Henry told reporters that the water in the event level ranged from 3 inches to 3 feet.

“We’re assessing it right now. We’re remediating it,” Henry said. “The good thing is, the water got shut off, the city responded in a pretty fast manner. I don’t think anyone is ready for things like this the Friday after Thanksgiving.”

Video posted by a WTVF-TV reporter shows the water puddled up on the main floor’s concourse area and the team store. The team was forced to close the store until further notice, pointing shoppers online for Black Friday specials.

The Predators’ next home game is now scheduled for Tuesday against the Anaheim Ducks.

The water issue also resulted in a switch to a different venue for a college hockey game between Northeastern and Western Michigan. They also had been scheduled to play at Bridgestone Arena, a game that was moved to Ford Ice Center Bellevue.

Rangers trade Ryan Reaves to Wild for 5th-round pick in 2025

Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports
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ST. PAUL, Minn. — The New York Rangers traded enforcer Ryan Reaves to the Minnesota Wild for a 2025 fifth-round pick.

Reaves had been a healthy scratch for eight of the past 12 games for the Rangers. He gives struggling Minnesota some extra muscle and a veteran presence.

The 35-year-old is signed through only the rest of this season at a $1.75 million salary cap hit. He has no points and 12 penalty minutes in 12 games of his second season with New York.

Reaves has played in 869 NHL regular-season and playoff games for the St. Louis Blues, Pittsburgh Penguins, Vegas Golden Knights and Rangers. He was with the Golden Knights during their inaugural season in 2017-18 when the reached the Stanley Cup Final.

Toronto’s Morgan Rielly placed on long-term injured reserve

Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs placed defenseman Morgan Rielly on long-term injured reserve with a knee injury.

Rielly was hurt in a collision with with New York forward Kyle Palmieri early in the third period of Toronto’s 3-2 overtime loss to the Islanders at home.

Rielly has no goals and 16 assists in 20 games this season and is averaging 23 minutes of ice time.

Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said following practice that the 28-year-old Rielly doesn’t need surgery, adding there’s no firm timeline for his return beyond the minimum 24 days and 10 games required for going on long-term injured reserve.

Toronto’s defense is also missing Jake Muzzin with a neck injury and T.J. Brodie with an injured oblique.