The NHL on Thursday suspended St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist for the next game of the Stanley Cup Final for making what its Department of Player Safety termed an illegal hit that left Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk with a head injury during Game 2.
Sundqvist drew a minor boarding penalty for the offense, at 17 minutes 57 seconds of the first period of the Blues’ eventual 3-2 overtime victory on Wednesday. Grzelcyk had to be helped off the ice and did not return.
Sundqvist, who had not been fined or suspended prior to this incident, will serve the suspension on Saturday, when the Final resumes at Enterprise Center. The teams split the first two games, at Boston.
Grzelcyk was going through the NHL’s concussion protocol and did not accompany the Bruins to St. Louis.
In an explanatory video, the league said it imposed discipline because Sundqvist’s path and actions led him to hit Grzelcyk “forcefully from behind with speed and driving him violently into the glass and causing an injury.” It said Sundqvist had time to ease up or avoid hitting Grzelcyk in an illegal and dangerous manner but said Sundqvist “chooses to finish his check into his opponent’s back with force.”
It also acknowledged that while Grzelcyk adjusted the position of his body just before the hit, “he does not do so in a way that absolves Sundqvist of responsibility for the nature of the hit.”
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said Grzelcyk’s status is day to day. John Moore and Steven Kampfer are candidates to replace him.
Blues coach Craig Berube spoke to reporters before the suspension was imposed and said he didn’t have to choose a replacement for Sundqvist yet. Robert Thomas is a possibility to take Sundqvist’s spot.
Bruins defenseman Charlie McAvoy said he felt encouraged after he spoke to Grzelcyk on Wednesday night and again on Thursday. “I think he’s in good spirits, obviously. He was in our prayers [Wednesday],” McAvoy said. “We weren’t sure how he was feeling. In talking to him a little bit, he’s in good spirits and we’re looking for him to rejoin us as soon as possible.”
Saturday’s game will be the Blues’ first Cup Final home game since May 5, 1970. Fans have jammed watch parties at Enterprise Center and are sure to ramp up the noise on Saturday.
“It’s going to be awesome,” said defenseman Carl Gunnarsson, whose long blast got past Boston goaltender Tuukka Rask for the winner 3:51 into sudden-death play on Wednesday. “ Everyone’s excited to bring this home. We’ve seen the pictures and the videos from the Enterprise Center for the first two games, and we’re not even playing there. I think everyone is just real happy and excited to take it home.”
Home ice, however, hasn’t been so friendly to the Blues this spring: they’re 5-5 at home, though one of the wins was a 2-1 overtime decision in Game 7 of their second-round series against the Dallas Stars. The Bruins are 6-2 on the road.