Compare recent history with Draisaitl’s hit and no-suspension decision –

Winless through the first two games of their first Stanley Cup Final in nearly two decades, the Edmonton Oilers are on an uphill climb as they look to get back to a close game against the Florida Panthers. For a while it looked like the climb would get even steeper, and the club almost suffered a devastating blow before a mandatory victory in the third game.

The Oilers faithful held their breath after the second game when questions arose after the game about whether striker Leon Draisaitl – undoubtedly the second most important Oiler on the squad and a key cog in the team’s offensive machine – deserved a suspension.

The problem was a sequence that took place midway through the third period of Monday’s power play, when Edmonton was up 2-1 and trying to make up the deficit. Flying down the right wall in the Panthers zone, Draisaitl closed in on Panthers captain Alexander Barkov, whose head was down as he fished for the puck, and shot up, the Oilers forward’s elbow making contact with the Russian’s head. The Panthers’ turnover fell to the ice and remained there for some time as chaos ensued between the two teams.

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Barkov did not return for the final half of the third period. His head coach later explained that his absence was more than precautionary.

“I think it was 9:28 in the 2-1 game,” Florida head coach Paul Maurice said after the dust settled after the Cats’ 4-1 victory. “I didn’t stop him.”

The fate of both star scorers is crucial ahead of what could prove to be a key turning point in the series. A win for Florida in the next intermission would give the Panthers a 3-0 advantage in the final, putting the Oilers in a difficult position and requiring a near-historic comeback – four straight wins – to lift the trophy. An Oilers win would give Edmonton some life in the matchup and put them on track to potentially tie the series before it moves back south.

On Tuesday, Sportsnet confirmed that Draisaitl would not face additional penalties for punching Barkov.

All eyes are now on Florida and the question of whether they will have to face the ice in a third game without their captain if an injury sidelines him. Maurice said Tuesday that Barkov has made progress since Monday night, but it is too early to determine whether he will travel with the team to Edmonton.

“He came today and wasn’t worse, so that’s really good,” Maurice said of his captain. “The real assessment will be tomorrow, but if he continues to make progress we should be in good shape. …He left (the game). We had a few things to do today – we looked at them, so there’s nothing wrong with that. So we’re done with that. Today he felt better, he feels good.

“But then you need to give him another 24 hours to make sure he still feels strong and effective. If he continues to improve, we think he will be a player for us.

If Barkov misses any point in the series, the lack of further discipline for Draisaitl will be a hard pill to swallow for Panthers fans.

There is no doubt that the Oilers star’s decision required additional attention from the league’s Department of Player Safety. That said, whether he actually deserved more than what he was given on the ice – minor injuries at a key moment that thwarted the Oilers’ comeback – is more complicated, especially considering the weight of the postseason suspension compared to the missed time. in a regular season consisting of 82 games.

Look back at the last few decades of playoff hockey and you’ll see that there were only a few plays that took place during the relentless physical grind of the Stanley Cup Final that allowed for extra discipline:

2019 Cup Final: Blues’ Sundqvist and Barbashev suspended for one match

In the league’s recent history, only two players have been suspended during a cup final, and both arrived in the same year, from the same squad.

St striker Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist was sidelined in the league for one game after taking out Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk with a hard shot to the head in Game 2 of his 2019 series. The sequence came late in the early tilt, with the teams tied 2-2, with Sundqvist closing in on Grzelcyk behind the Boston net and leaving his feet to cling to the boards, with the forward’s arm connecting straight to Grzelcyk’s head. The defenseman missed the next four games before returning for Game Seven, while Sundqvist served a one-game suspension and returned for Game Four.

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One game later, Blues forward Ivan Barbashev found himself in the same situation. The striker was suspended for one match following the Game 5 sequence, which again occurred early in the match with both teams tied. Marcus Johansson from Boston hit the mark, the striker flew through the right circle in the St. zone. Louis, then was caught with a blow to the head as Barbashev flew past him in the opposite direction. The contact sent Johansson spinning onto the ice. No penalties were awarded in the match and Johansson remained in the game, also preparing for two more.

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Although there was no significant injury in the latter match, in explaining the reasons for Barbashev’s one-game suspension in the league video, it was noted that “Barbashev landed a high, hard hit that made Johansson’s head the focal point contact, in the event of a hit where contact to the head could have been avoided. This is an illegal head check.”

2011 Cup Final: Rome Canucks suspended for remainder of final

A more extreme example occurred in 2011, when the Vancouver Canucks had their own Cup Final battle against the Bruins.

The match in question occurred five minutes into the third game, with both teams tied and Vancouver winning the first two games of the series. Bruins forward Nathan Horton collected the puck in the neutral zone and threw it to a teammate rushing down the left wing as Boston pressed into Vancouver’s zone. Before Horton crossed the blue line, Canucks defenseman Aaron Rome lunged forward, put his feet down and caught Horton in a late high check, his arm going straight to Horton’s head.

The Bruins forward remained on the ice for a long time, visibly dazed, before being removed from the game on a stretcher. Horton was diagnosed with a serious concussion and was forced to miss the rest of the final. Rome was suspended for four games, which prevented him from participating in the remainder of the series as Boston returned to take the series and lift the Cup.

Looking back at these three sequences, none of them overlap much with Draisaitl’s check: Sundqvist’s shot similarly involved a play along the board, but the check player was likely in a more vulnerable position, while Barbashev and Rome’s plays took place in the open ice. That said, the reasoning behind Barbashev’s suspension could apply to Draisaitl as well.

The injury status of the player being checked is also important. Again, it was different in all three situations – Grzelcyk missed multiple games after Sundqvist’s hit, Johansson missed none, and in Roma’s case, the defender received a suspension that completely ruled him out of the series as it became clear that Horton was also out of the series.

Suspension of conference finals

When we recall all the cases of heavy, physical play in Cup final matches from years ago, there is a clear reluctance to suspend the play-offs at this late stage unless it is undeniably justified, given the importance of the final round matches. Broaden the net to the Conference Finals and you’ll find a longer list of situations to consider – more suspensions have been handed down in the third round of the postseason, and the stakes are still quite high.

Since Rome’s suspension in 2011, the league has imposed nine conference final suspensions. Five of those were single-game bans, meaning that in the final period of postseason discipline, seven of the 12 bans issued in the final two rounds of the playoffs were single-game, including three suspensions in the Cup Final.

A recent late-round suspension bucked that trend, however, as Dallas Stars captain Jamie Benn was suspended two games last year for cross-checking Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone during the 2023 Western Conference Finals. Previously, it was Edmonton’s Evander Kane in 2021, who received a one-game suspension for boarding then-Colorado Avalanche center Nazem Kadri in the Western Conference finals.

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A year earlier, Alex Killorn of Tampa Bay was himself suspended for one game after boarding Brock Nelson of the New York Islanders – the play against Killorn is somewhat reminiscent of the Draisaitl sequence, but again Killorn was tagging Nelson when he was in a more vulnerable position.

In the 2014 Eastern Conference Finals, three players were suspended throughout the series, two of whom advanced to the Cup Final.

In the third match, Rangers’ Daniel Carcillo was suspended for 10 matches for referee abuse after he elbowed linesman Scott Driscoll while being escorted to the penalty area. The ban excluded Carcillo from the squad for the next cup final. Brandon Prust himself earned a suspension in the same Game 3, the Montreal Canadiens forward caught New York’s Derek Stepan with an open-ice hit that resembled the Rome-Horton collision – the play resulted in a two-game suspension that prevented Prust from playing in Games 4 and 5 In the next game, New York’s John Moore was similarly suspended for a similar play; a Rangers defenseman caught Montreal’s Dale Weise high in the neutral zone – the ban excluded Moore from the lineup for the final game of the series and Game 1 of the final. Cup.

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In 2013, Duncan Keith of Chicago received a one-game ban for influential Jeff Carter of Los Angeles. And the year before, both the Rangers and Coyotes had a player sidelined during their respective conference finals series: Prust picked up another one during his time with the Rangers, sticking out his elbow and catching New Jersey’s Anton Volchenkov in the back of the net. header, while the Coyotes’ Martin Hanzal was suspended for boarding Kings’ Dustin Brown.

Watch the movie and go through each sequence and you can gather arguments for and against Draisaitl’s suspension, but it’s not a clear-cut case.

Others were banned for at least the match for headbutting an opponent, as Draisaitl appeared to do when he caught Barkov with a high elbow. On the other hand, all of the above comparable plays involving suspensions this late in the playoffs appeared to involve more significant contact, occurring either in the open ice or, if played along the boards, including a hit from behind the player being checked in a more vulnerable position than Barkov seemed to be.

The league’s Department of Player Safety appears to have determined that the Oilers forward’s hit was not dangerous enough to require further discipline. Now the Panthers are focusing on Barkov’s status as they wait for news on how impactful the blow really was.

Both teams return to the ice Thursday night in Edmonton for game three.