Colorado Avalanche star defenseman Cale Makar was suspended one game by the NHL on Tuesday for his hit on Seattle’s Jared McCann early in a Game 4 loss to the Kraken.
Makar, last year’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner as playoff MVP, will be a spectator for Game 5 on Wednesday night with the series tied 2-2. The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced the suspension after a hearing with Makar.
“Disappointing, but I really don’t have any thoughts on it besides that,” Colorado coach Jared Bednar said after the team arrived in Denver.
Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after the Kraken’s 3-2 overtime win Monday night that McCann would miss Game 5 and likely be out longer. He did not specify McCann’s injury.
Hakstol said Tuesday after the Kraken arrived in Denver that his team wouldn’t be wrapped up in debate around Makar’s suspension.
“The feel that I get from our players is they’re not going to be concerned about the suspension — yes or no, or the length of it — they have a concern for their teammate who’s gone through pretty tough night and going through some tough time today as he comes through this,” Hakstol said. “Their focus is on Game 5 tomorrow night, so that simplifies it.”
In a video announcing the suspension, the league called it an improper “body check to a vulnerable player.”
“Makar finishes this hit well outside the allowable window to finish a check,” the league said. “In addition, it is clear that Makar knows McCann is not in possession of the puck when he decides to deliver this hit.”
The suspension is another blow for the Avalanche, who played the past two games without forward Valeri Nichushkin for personal reasons and have been beset by key injuries for much of the season.
Makar has led Colorado in ice time in the series, averaging 25 minutes, 15 seconds per game and he played nearly 27 minutes Monday night. He has one goal and two assists through the first four games.
Makar has no history of being fined or suspended since making his NHL debut in 2019.
“Just other guys stepping up. We’ve done it all year with different injuries and guys in and out of the lineup. Lots of roster fluctuations. Just got to move on,” Bednar said. “You’ve got to set your game plan and other guys will have to step up and play well. Obviously what he does has to be covered by committee, all six guys on the back end, just move forward, keep pushing forward.”
The hit happened midway through the first period as McCann had a short-handed breakaway attempt. His shot was saved by Colorado goalie Alexandar Georgiev with the puck going over the glass into the netting.
McCann appeared unprepared for the hit from Makar, which left Seattle’s leading scorer from the regular season on the ice for several minutes and needed help to get to the bench.
“We’re really going to miss him,” Seattle defenseman Vince Dunn said. “We don’t want that to be a distraction in our locker room. We want to focus on the plan that we have in hand.”
Makar said he was unaware where the puck was when he made the hit. He was originally given a 5-minute major penalty but it was reduce to a 2-minute minor for interference after a review.
Hakstol said he still had questions about how the penalty could be downgraded from a major to a minor during the game, but deemed worthy of suspension a day later.
“It’s unfortunate. I never want to injure guys. Hopefully he’s all right,” Makar said after the game. “I didn’t feel like I tried to finish him that hard, but I feel like if I was in that scenario they would have done the exact same thing. I’m not trying to hurt anybody.”
It is the second suspension of the 2023 playoffs. Toronto’s Michael Bunting was given three games for an illegal check to the head of Tampa Bay’s Erik Cernak in the teams’ series opener. Cernak remains out for Game 5 on Thursday night, while Bunting is eligible to return.
PANTHERS at BRUINS, Boston leads 3-1 (7 p.m. ET, ESPN)
The Bruins are getting stronger as they try to eliminate the Panthers on Wednesday night.
Captain Patrice Bergeron returned to practice Tuesday after missing the first four games of the series with an unspecified upper body injury. The Bruins will likely still be waiting for forward David Krejci. Coach Jim Montgomery said Krejci might be ready to come back for Game 6.
The Panthers are also getting healthy. Coach Paul Maurice said defenseman Aaron Ekblad, who left Friday’s game with an unspecified injury and missed Sunday’s, will be back. Forward Anthony Duclair, who missed Game 4 as well, is also expected to return as Florida tries to stay alive.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno and AP Sports Writers Pat Graham and Jimmy Golen contributed to this report.
AP NHL playoffs: https://apnews.com/hub/stanley-cup and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports