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Oilers' Draisaitl not suspended for hit on Barkov

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Published in Hockey
Tuesday, 11 June 2024 14:08

Edmonton Oilers star Leon Draisaitl avoided suspension for his illegal hit that took Florida Panthers captain Aleksander Barkov out of Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

The NHL Department of Player Safety ruled on Tuesday that Draisaitl will neither be fined nor suspended for the hit, which received a two-minute minor for roughing.

The Panthers lead the series 2-0 after Monday night's 4-1 victory, with Game 3 scheduled for Thursday night in Edmonton. Florida coach Paul Maurice indicated on Tuesday that Barkov's health is trending in the right direction.

"He came in today. He wasn't worse. That's a really good thing. The real assessment will be tomorrow, but if he continues to progress we should be in good shape," said the coach.

Barkov is tied for the team lead with 19 points in 19 games, sharing it with Matthew Tkachuk. The winner of the Selke Trophy as the NHL's top defensive forward, Barkov has been essential to the Panthers shutting down Oilers star Connor McDavid, who has one assist in two games.

Meanwhile, Edmonton will have Draisaitl in the lineup for a must-win Game 3. He's second on the Oilers in goals (10) and points (28) in the postseason.

With the Panthers leading 2-1 in the third period of Game 2, Barkov played the puck in his defensive zone. Draisaitl came in on the forecheck, left his skates and his elbow contacted Barkov's jaw. The Florida captain fell to the ice, was tended to by medical staff and then left for the trainers' room.

Maurice said his star center was unavailable for the last 9:28 of the game. Panthers players said a key to victory was not allowing the loss of Barkov to impact how they closed out the game.

"I think we rallied. We did what we had to do to win the game," said winger Evan Rodrigues, who scored his second goal of the game on the ensuing power play. "You never want to see your captain go down, but I thought everyone did a great job focusing and got the job done."

Oilers coach Kris Knoblauch didn't anticipate anything more than a penalty. "I think he went in there to hit. His hands got up a little bit high. He was trying to knock him off the puck and that led to the penalty," said the coach.

Sources told ESPN on Tuesday that Draisaitl's hit did not rise to the level necessary to earn a suspension in the Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't viewed as predatory or delivered with intent to injure. Draisaitl is not a player with a history of illegal hits to the head. He's never been suspended and was only fined twice: in April 2017 for spearing and in Nov. 2023 for a dangerous trip.

But the NHL Department of Player Safety did take Barkov's status for Game 3 and beyond into account in its decision. If he was sidelined, it could have tipped the decision into a possible suspension.

While injuries don't always lead to suspensions, there is special consideration for the unique dynamics of a seven-game playoff series between two opponents, and what a player's absence to injury could mean for that series. That came into play in 2023 when Toronto Maple Leafs forward Michael Bunting was suspended three games for an illegal check to the head and interference against Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak, a key player on the team.

But Barkov appears on track to play in Game 3.

"We had some things that needed to get looked at today. They got looked at -- so there's nothing sinister there -- and he passed that," Maurice said. "He looked better today. Feels good. But you've gotta give it another 24 hours to make sure that he's still feeling strong. If that continues to progress he should be a player for us."

Maurice shut down talk that emotions over the incident could carry over into Thursday night's game.

"It's done. Refs called a penalty on the ice. The league looks at every single hit and they'll make their decision. We aren't dealing with that anymore today," he said. "Part of that is the mental discipline to leave the game where it is regardless of the result. It's done for me. It's all done."

There was one bit of supplemental discipline from Game 2: Edmonton's Sam Carrick was fined $2,213.54, the maximum allowable under the CBA, for slashing Florida's Dmitry Kulikov.

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