Jets' Mark Scheifele suspended 4 games for dangerous hit on Canadiens' Evans
Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice says it was 'heavy, heavy' hit, but not dirty
Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele was suspended for four games for his "vicious" hit on Montreal Canadiens forward Jake Evans.
The discipline was handed down by the NHL's Department of Player Safety during a phone hearing on Thursday.
The department explained in a video that Scheifele's play was considered charging due to the distance travelled to hit an opponent.
"Scheifele, moving with excessive momentum gained from traveling a considerable distance, finishes his check violently and with unwarranted force into Evans, making significant contact in the process and causing an injury."
WATCH | Graphic Warning: Habs' Evans exits Game 1 after violent hit from Jets' Scheifele:
The video also said the Department of Player Safety determined that Scheifele's intention was not to make a play on the puck.
"It is apparent to our department that his intention on this play is to deliver a hard, violent check to an opponent with the outcome of both the play and the game already having been decided."
Evans is out indefinitely with a concussion, though he wasn't hospitalized following the play, Montreal interim head coach Dominique Ducharme confirmed on Thursday.
After the game, he called the hit "vicious" and "useless."
Earlier, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice said he felt Scheifele's crushing hit was "clean."
Maurice says it was a "heavy, heavy" hit by Scheifele on Evans after he scored an empty-net goal in the final minute of the opener of the teams' playoff series on Wednesday.
But Maurice argued it wasn't dirty, saying Scheifele's feet were on the ice and his arms were tucked in.
Because it was not an in-person hearing, the NHL's Department of Player Safety regulations said any suspension will be for a maximum of five games.
The Habs won 5-3 on Wednesday and carry a 1-0 lead into Friday's Game 2 in Winnipeg.
Scheifele was assessed a major for charging and a game misconduct. The Montreal player had just come around the empty net and scored with 57 seconds left.
Evans, a 25-year-old from Toronto, flew to the ice banging his head, and was carried off on a stretcher.
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The loss of Scheifele is big for Winnipeg. He was the club's scoring leader with 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 56 regular-season games with just 12 penalty minutes.
The 28-year-old native of Kitchener, Ont., has two goals and three assists in five playoff games so far this year. He's currently tied with Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler and Josh Morrissey for the team scoring lead.
Montreal defenceman Jeff Petry said Scheifele's absence won't force the Canadiens to play differently.
"We're going to play them the same way as if he was in the lineup," he said. "Pressure them hard, take away their time.
"We're going to approach the game the same way and focus on what we need to do."
Byron and Petry say the best redemption Montreal can gain on Winnipeg is to win the series, not exact revenge upon individual Jets players.
"The best way for us to respond is to win hockey games so Jake can come back," Byron said. "He's been playing great for us.
"Again, [he] made a great effort on the goal to chase it down and put it the net and finish the game for us. We need to win hockey games so he can come back and keep playing well for us."
Added Petry: "The best way to get back at them for that is to win the series. Our focus is to make sure we're playing the right way … and make them pay that way."
'You can't hit guys like that'
Byron, too, has been on the receiving end of NHL justice. He received a three-game suspension in January 2019 for a hit on Florida defenceman MacKenzie Weegar.
"My own feelings were obviously regret," he said. "I don't think you ever consciously go in to hit a guy to hurt someone but at the same time you have to own up to your actions.
"You're responsible. It doesn't matter if a guy is in a vulnerable position or not. At the end of the day you control your actions, you control what you do, how you finish your checks … you have to own up what you do and be responsible and take accountability for it."
WATCH | Habs' Game 1 win over Jets marred by concern over Jake Evans:
Scheifele has earned the reputation of being an offensive player (507 points in 575 regular-season games). His career-high for penalty minutes is 48, registered in 71 regular-season games with Winnipeg in 2015-16.
"I know he's going down there to finish a check," Byron said. "I think his reaction immediately was knowing that he made a mistake.
"It's a bad hit … regardless of how he feels [Thursday] you can't hit guys like that "
With files from The Canadian Press