NEW YORK — Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele was suspended for four games by the NHL on Thursday night for a crushing late hit on Montreal's Jake Evans in Game 1 of the second-round series.
Evans was taken off the ice on a stretcher with 57 seconds left Wednesday night in Montreal’s 5-3 victory after being hit in the head and shoulder area an instant after tucking in an empty-net goal. Evans chased down the puck behind the net, tightly circled back around the goal cage and scored just before Scheifele’s sent him crashing to the ice. Scheifele was given a major for charging and a game misconduct.
Evans sustained a concussion and is out indefinitely. He was not taken to a hospital.
“Any concussion you can be worried about,” Montreal interim coach Dominique Ducharme said. “Obviously, you can have one and sometimes it’s one too many. You never want to see that.”
The NHL department of player safety said Schefiele “finishes his check violently and with unwarranted force into Evans, making significant head contact in the process and causing an injury.”
“It is apparent to our department that his intention on this place is to deliver a hard, violent check to an opponent with the outcome of the play and the game already decided," the department of player safety said.
Before the suspension was handed down, Jets coach Paul Maurice defended Scheifele’s hit, saying it was “clean.”
“For me the feet are on the ice, the arms are tucked in and it’s a body contact,” he told reporters during a videoconference. “That’s the way I see it. ... You need to do everything you can to stop a goal from being scored. It was a heavy, heavy hit for sure, but it was clean."
The 6-foot-3 Scheifele led Winnipeg in scoring with 63 points on 21 goals and 42 assists in 56 regular-season games. He had just 12 penalty minutes.
“He (Scheifele) is a big, strong, powerful man that can skate," Maurice said. "In order to try and cut that play off, he was skating pretty good. He wasn’t striding through the hit by any means. It was a hell of a hit, it was hard. Good on Evans, he took the hit to make the play."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Friday night in Winnipeg.
“We have to find a way to win the next game,” Jets forward Andrew Copp said. “I think that’s all we’re worried about right now.”