Red Wings’ Kronwall suspended for Game 7

Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall caught Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov looking up ice and delivered the hit of the series.

The Detroit Red Wings will be forced to play Game 7 without their top defenceman.

Niklas Kronwall was suspended for one game Tuesday by the NHL’s department of player safety for his hit to the head of Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov.

In the second period of Detroit’s Game 6 loss to Tampa Bay, Kronwall laid out Kucherov with a big hit that on replay showed forearm-to-head contact. (Watch the play above.)

“I thought it was a clean hit at the time,” Kronwall told reporters Monday.

Yet the league reviewed the check as charging and/or an illegal check to the head.

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Referees Dave Jackson and Steve Kozari did not call a penalty on the play. Kucherov left the game but returned for the third period and said he was fine.

“It’s a hit,” Kucherov said. “I’m not going to cry now. It’s part of the game. That’s why we play here.”

Lightning coach Jon Cooper said he didn’t see Kronwall’s hit on Kucherov because of where it happened on the ice.

“The refs didn’t call a penalty so it must’ve been OK,” Cooper said.

The six-foot, 194-pound Kronwall has a reputation as a ferocious hitter but has never been suspended in his NHL career. He leaves the series with two assists and four penalty minutes.

Kronwall’s punishment marks the first suspension dished out in the 2015 playoffs. The league has now handed out a first-round suspension in each of the last five years.

Game 7 takes place Wednesday night at Amalie Arena in Tampa.

(with files from AP)

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