Niklas Kronwall’s flattening of Nikita Kucherov late in the second period of Tampa’s Game 6 win was the platonic ideal of a “Kronwalling,” the flying elbow to a head-down player for which the physical Red Wings defenseman has become so well-known. Kronwall has never been suspended before, but that appears likely to change.
It’s a dangerous hit—look at this photo and think of all the bad things that could happen if Kucherov’s unprotected skull smacks the ice—but is it a dirty one? More to the point, how is this hit any different from the dozens of times Kronwall’s done it in the past?
But the league has announced a hearing for Kronwall later today, and it’s exceedingly rare for a hearing not to result in some sort of punishment.
“I thought it was a clean hit at the time,” Kronwall said after the game. Lightning coach Jon Cooper had this to say, and I think we’re safe in assuming he deadpanned it:
“To be honest, I didn’t see it,” Cooper said. “The refs didn’t call a penalty, so it must’ve been OK.”
The context here is that the hit came a day after Cooper publicly complained that the Wings have been getting away with interference all series, and it’s been going uncalled.
“There are 30 teams in the league and nobody does (interference) more than the Detroit Red Wings, hands down,” Cooper told reporters in Tampa, Fla., on Sunday. “The old saying is, ‘If you ain’t cheating, you ain’t trying.’ They do it to a ‘T’.
“My message to our guys is you’ve got to suck it up, got to fight through it. And if they’re bringing it, you’ve got to bring a gun to a knife fight. That’s how it has to go. So to get on them, we have to be better.”
Part of that frustration is a leaguewide trend toward the officials swallowing their whistles. But more specifically, it’s the Red Wings veterans and coach Mike Babcock knowing that every borderline penalty can’t possibly be called, especially in the playoffs, so Detroit regularly pushes the limits and figures out exactly what it can get away with.
If tomorrow’s Game 7 in Tampa is anything like the series so far, it’ll be intense and it’ll be a close-run thing. And it’ll likely be played without Niklas Kronwall.