LOS ANGELES — Sharks forward Raffi Torres was suspended for the rest of San Jose’s second-round playoff series against Los Angeles on Thursday for an illegal check to the head of Kings forward Jarret Stoll during the opener.
The NHL announced the suspension a few hours before the Kings hosted the Sharks in Game 2. Stoll wasn’t expected to play for the defending Stanley Cup champions.
Stoll didn’t return to Game 1 after Torres hit him late in the second period of the Kings’ 2-0 victory. Torres got only a minor penalty for charging on the hit, and coach Todd McLellan and captain Joe Thornton echoed Torres’ belief that the hit was completely legal.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety sharply disagreed while handing down a fourth suspension for Torres, considered a repeat offender in dangerous hits under the league’s collective bargaining agreement. Torres flew to New York for an in-person hearing Thursday.
While playing for Phoenix last season, Torres received a 21-game suspension — initially 25 games — for a high hit on Chicago star Marian Hossa in the first round of the playoffs. Torres was suspended for two games in January 2012 for charging Minnesota defenceman Nate Prosser, and he sat out four games in April 2011 for a hit to the head of Edmonton’s Jordan Eberle while playing for Vancouver.
Stoll was bent forward while trying to play a bouncing puck when Torres approached him from the side for a violent hit. Stoll’s head snapped back violently before he fell forward onto the ice.
In an explanatory video released by Brendan Shanahan, the NHL’s senior vice-president of player safety, he said Stoll’s head was “the principal point of contact” in the hit, creating grounds for suspension. Although Torres initially made contact with Stoll’s right shoulder, Shanahan ruled that the shoulder hit was only a glancing blow, as evidenced by the direction both players travelled after the contact.
Torres claimed he had changed his ways during a largely incident-free season with Phoenix and San Jose, his sixth team in six seasons. He has been a dependable depth forward this season for the Sharks and Coyotes, scoring 18 points with just 17 penalty minutes in 39 games.
The Kings lose much more in the absence of Stoll, their veteran third-line centre. Stoll is a faceoff specialist and a top penalty-killer with a strong two-way game.
Brad Richardson, who played 13 playoff games during the Kings’ championship run last year, is expected to take Stoll’s spot in the lineup.
Los Angeles hasn’t disclosed the nature of Stoll’s injury or a timetable for his recovery.
Torres, Thornton and McLellan all claimed the hit was completely legal, while Kings coach Darryl Sutter called it “careless.” Torres and Stoll are friends after three seasons as teammates in Edmonton from 2005-08.
“We were kind of shocked to hear he has to fly to New York for the hearing, because we didn’t see anything wrong on the play,” Thornton said Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate that Raffi has to go through this again.”
McLellan prepared for Torres’ likely absence by moving Joe Pavelski onto the Sharks’ second line on the left wing with Logan Couture and Patrick Marleau. Scott Gomez moved into Pavelski’s spot on the third line, and Tim Kennedy is likely to suit up on the fourth line.