After a hearing earlier today, St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist has been suspended one game for boarding Boston Bruins defenseman Matt Grzelcyk in Game Two of the Stanley Cup Final. The decision was handed down from the NHL Department of Player Safety this evening. A high hit from behind in the first period injured Grzelcyk and he did not return to the game, tilting the ice in St. Louis’ favor as Boston played two-thirds of the game with just five defenders. The Bruins will try to take advantage of karma swinging back in their direction, as the Blues will be without a key checking forward in Game Three.
Player Safety, which had top officials George Parros and Damian Echevarrieta on hand for Game Two, met with Sundqvist this afternoon and took a fair amount of time to make their decision. At the end of the day, the league could not ignore a hit to between the numbers on a defenseless player, even if Sundqvist was not intentionally trying to check Grzelcyk from behind as he played the puck behind his own net:
Sundqvist adjusts his force, then hits (Grzelcyk) forcefully from behind with speed, driving him violently into the glass and causing an injury. This is boarding. It is important to note that the boarding rule places the onus to deliver a legal check on the hitter. Therefore, while we acknowledge that Grzelcyk does adjust his body position in making a play on the puck, he does not do so in a way that absolves Sundqvist of responsibility for the nature of this hit. From the moment Sundqvist hits the bottom of the face-off circle until contact is made, Sundqvist sees nothing but Grzelcyk’s numbers. This is not a situation in which a sudden and unexpected movement by the player receiving the check turns a legal hit into an illegal one at the last moment… Sundqvist has time to react to Grzelcyk’s movements and reacts by cutting back across Grzelcyk’s body. This movement results in a more forceful and direct hit to Grzelcyk’s upper back and head, which then drives Grzelcyk’s head into the glass… Sundqvist chooses to finish his check into his opponent’s back with force. Sundqvist had sufficient time to minimize the force of this hit, avoid the hit entirely, or adjust his course to deliver a legal check.
This is not only the expected result on the play, but also a fair punishment and well-adjudicated by Player Safety. Sundqvist’s lack of any history of supplemental discipline and the fact that playoff games, Stanley Cup games in particular, are worth more than regular season games may have convinced some that he would avoid a suspension. However, the fact that Grzelcyk was hurt on a play that Sundqvist could have avoided in a game that was chippy and physical from the start hurt his case. So too did the fact that officials gave Sundqvist only a minor on a check that should have been deserving of a match penalty and could have evened the odds for the short-handed Bruins. Instead, Sundqvist will now sit for Game Three.
There is no word yet on when Grzelcyk is expected to return to the Boston lineup, but it won’t be for Game Three. NHL.com’s Amalie Benjamin reports that Grzelcyk is considered day-to-day and has entered the league’s concussion protocol. He did not travel with the team to St. Louis and will miss Game Three, but that does not rule out him re-joining Boston for Game Four or later in the series, which will go at least five games and likely longer. In the meantime, John Moore is likely to draw in for Grzelcyk on Saturday night in St. Louis.