Hit on Kings’ Jarret Stoll by Sharks’ Raffi Torres could alter playoff series

Kings center Jarret Stoll gets knocked off his skates from a hit by Sharks left wing Raffi Torres (hidden from view) in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals on Tuesday at Staples Center.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

San Jose winger Raffi Torres’ jarring hit of Kings center Jarret Stoll on Tuesday triggered a sizable ripple effect that could alter the tone and course of the teams’ Western Conference semifinal playoff series. The ripples could spread far enough for the Kings to lose a valued penalty killer for a while and for the NHL to severely punish Torres, a multiple repeat offender under the league’s often murky code of justice.

Torres was suspended Wednesday pending an in-person hearing scheduled Thursday in New York with the NHL’s Department of Player Safety. Stoll, whose 23 hits in seven playoff games rank third on a team whose success is built on physicality, appeared to suffer a head injury on the open-ice hit. He didn’t return for the third period of the Kings’ series-opening 2-0 victory, not coincidentally the period in which the Kings scrambled the most.

Stoll did not practice Wednesday and the Kings, per quaint custom endorsed by the NHL, released no information on his status for Game 2 on Thursday at Staples Center. Coach Darryl Sutter called the hit “careless” and said Stoll was “day to day.” When asked if Stoll’s injury will be long term, Sutter replied, “How long is the series?”


Sutter indicated that speedy Brad Richardson will take Stoll’s spot on the third line between Dustin Penner and Trevor Lewis, but he said Stoll would be missed.

“You’re playing seven games in what, 12 days? So that makes it tough,” Sutter said.

“He’s a really good player for us. He’s a big part of the win of the Stanley Cup and a really good center man and a guy who plays minutes, plays special teams. So obviously our player’s quite a bit more important than theirs.”

Torres, a teammate of Stoll’s on the Stanley Cup runner-up 2006 Edmonton Oilers, is no stranger to the NHL’s disciplinary system.

Torres was playing for Phoenix in April 2012 when he was suspended 25 games for a late, leaping hit to the head of Chicago’s Marian Hossa in a first-round playoff game. Hossa suffered a concussion and was carried off on a stretcher. Torres’ sentence was reduced to 21 games after he appealed to Commissioner Gary Bettman. At the time, it was Torres’ third suspension in 13 months.

In this instance, the NHL is considering supplementary discipline on the grounds that Torres’ hit was an illegal check to the head. Torres got a minor penalty for charging but the Sharks contended even that was too much.

“It’s unfortunate Jarret was hurt but it was a clean hit,” Sharks center Joe Thornton said Wednesday after the team’s optional practice at Staples Center. “It looked for us like it was shoulder to shoulder. Jarret was down low and Raffi just finished his check.

“It almost seems like the player getting hit has no responsibility at all right now. The way I was brought up was to keep your head up. When I was 6 years old I was taught that.”

The incident drew comparisons to a hotly debated hit delivered by Ottawa Senators defenseman Eric Gryba against Montreal Canadiens forward Lars Eller in a first-round playoff game. Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s director of player safety, suspended Gryba for two games for that hit.

“I think that hit was fine,” Penner said of Gryba’s actions. “I know some people don’t, but it’s a split-second decision. You guys can slow it down to .001 milliseconds but he’s got to make that hit. This one, he probably didn’t need to make that hit. That’s where I see the difference.”

Without Stoll, the Kings will have to change a penalty-killing unit that had been relatively stable. That underlines how fortunate they were to maintain a consistent lineup during their Cup run a year ago. In 20 games last spring, they used 22 players, the same number they’ve used in seven games so far against St. Louis and San Jose.

“Last year we were healthy but this year, sometimes you’ve got to battle and have some other guys step up,” Richardson said.

If they can’t keep the lineup the same, they can keep the same poised approach.

“I think we’re clearly a team that’s not going to lower ourselves to retribution,” Sutter said. “That’s come into play. We talk about not taking retaliation or dumb penalties and that’s not going to change.”

Team captain Dustin Brown also said blindly seeking revenge isn’t the answer.

“You don’t want to see a teammate get hurt like that but it’s important to understand there’s ways to do it within the rules and ways to do it throughout a series within the rules, and that’s what we have to do,” he said.

“Regardless of what happens, it’s playoffs and the best retribution is winning games right now.”

Times staff writer David Wharton contributed to this story.