Evgeni Malkin accepts suspension, believes Raffl ‘dove’

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Evgeni Malkin did not play in the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 3-1 win over the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night because he was serving a one-game suspension for violently swinging his stick at Philadelphia Flyers forward Michael Raffl.

For Malkin, the play resulted in his second match penalty of the season and even though there is some debate as to where the stick actually hit Raffl, it was still an ugly incident that warranted a suspension.

On Friday, Malkin spoke about the suspension, and while he accepted his punishment, he made it clear that he was not happy with the circumstances surrounding the event, while also accusing Raffl of taking a dive. What angered him the most during the game was that he was punched in the back of the neck by the Flyers forward just before swinging his stick. That came in Malkin’s return to the lineup after he missed five games due to what he revealed on Thursday was a neck injury.

He also argued to the league that his stick didn’t actually hit Raffl’s face.

Via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:

“Yes and no,” Malkin responded when asked whether he agreed with the suspension. “One game probably, it’s OK. I play dangerous. My stick went high. My point [to the NHL] was that I didn’t touch his face. I touched his shoulder. I think he dove.”

Several things can all be true at the same time with this incident.

Yes, Raffl’s punch should have warranted a penalty and Malkin is right to be upset that one was not called. That should not be something that is simply tolerated as being part of the game.

But it is also true that Malkin can not react the way he did and swing his stick in the manner in which he did. There is no justification for that no matter what preceded it, and whether or not he hit Raffl’s shoulder or face should irrelevant because the intent in what he was trying to do there was clear. He was using his hockey stick as a weapon and that should always warrant a punishment.

He is lucky that it wasn’t worse, and had his stick — or Raffl’s head been — an inch or two closer we probably would have been looking at an incident and suspension that were both significantly worse.

Flyers coach Scott Gordon responded to Malkin’s comments on Thursday and wasn’t interested in giving him credit for missing Raffl’s face.

Via the Courier Post:

“Well it wasn’t a high stick, right? It was a baseball swing,” Gordon said. “Just because you don’t connect doesn’t mean that it wasn’t vicious. It’s a tough call. There was intent to swing hard and he did but it didn’t connect. I don’t think you reward a player because he didn’t connect.”

He is not wrong.

The two teams meet Saturday, Feb. 23 (8 p.m. ET; NBC) in the 2019 Stadium Series game at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.

It will certainly be interesting.

Related: Evgeni Malkin suspended one game

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.