The National Hockey League's Department of Player Safety is extremely busy this spring, and this, just in the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs... On Wednesday, the department announced that Winnipeg Jets defenseman Josh Morrissey is suspended one game for his cross-check to the neck of Minnesota Wild forward Eric Staal, and they probably won't get a day off on Thursday. Many expect the department of Player Safety to come down hard on Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov for the hit he landed on New Jersey Devils defenseman Sami Vatanen last night.
On Wednesday night, the Lightning were facing off against the Devils in a pivotal Game 4 of their first round playoff match up and it didn't take long for things to get ugly between these two teams. The hit came with just under four minutes left in the first period, and while you could certainly make a strong argument here that Kucherov was looking for a shoulder to shoulder hit, there's no doubt about that the fact that the star forward made significant contact with the head of Vatanen on this particular play.
Many also noticed that Kucherov quite clearly launched his body up and into the head of Vatanen. After the first period, Sportsnet's Doug MacLean noted that the hit was quite similar to the one that Los Angeles Kings' Drew Doughty delivered on Vegas forward William Carrier. The hit from Doughty however appeared to be considerably less forceful than the one delivered by Kucherov, and Doughty did not launch himself in the same manner that Kucherov did on Wednesday night.
Clearly, the department of Player Safety has no break.There have also been suspensions handed down to Toronto Maple Leafs veteran center Nazem Kadri for a vicious blow to the head of Bruins veteran Tommy Wingels, a hit that cost him three playoff games.
Should Kucherov receive a game for this hit? Keep in mind it was not called a penalty on the play and that could increase the likelihood of a suspension for Kucherov.
The Russian forward has been one of the best players in the 2018 playoffs so far, standing on top of the boards with nine points, along with Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby and Boston Bruins forward David Backes. Kucherov has tallied four goals and five assists since the start of the series against the Devils, which the Bolts currently lead 3-1.