The Department of Player Safety has assessed Toronto Maple Leafs forward Kyle Clifford a one-game suspension for boarding Tampa Bay Lightning forward Ross Colton in the first period of last night’s Game 1 of the First Round series between the two teams.
After Colton made a play for the puck along the boards early in the first period, he cleared the puck down the ice. Clifford, seconds after Colton lost possession of the puck, forcefully skated into him from behind, making contact with Colton’s back with his elbow. Colton’s head hit the boards and he fell to the ice, although he remained in the game. Clifford was assessed a five-minute major penalty and game misconduct on the play.
In rationalizing the suspension, the Department of Player Safety said the following:
It’s important to note that this is not a case where a sudden or unexpected movement by Colton prior to contact changes a legal check into an illegal one. From the moment Colton appraoches the puck battle until the hit is delivered, Clifford sees nothing but his numbers. While we have heard an argument that Clifford does make some attempt to deliver this contact legally, this remains a forceful hit to a defenseless player who is no longer in possession of the puck. What causes this play to rise to the level of supplemental discipline is the angle from which Clifford approaches this hit, which makes Colton particularly defenseless, combined with his force. If Clifford wants to avoid supplemental discipline on this play, he must further adjust his force to deliver legal body contact, avoid the check entirely, or at the very least minimize the force of the hit. Instead, he finishes with force, driving Colton into the glass dangerously.
Clifford has never been suspended over his 751-game NHL career but has been fined three times.