The Nashville Predators? They’re not happy a penalty was called. It’s safe to say the intensity in this Western Conference quarter-final series has shot way up.
Cheechoo, the Sharks’ top goal scorer this season, declined interview requests after an MRI. He had a knee-on-knee collision with Predators forward Scott Hartnell in the Sharks’ 5-4 double overtime victory in Game 1 on Wednesday night.
San Jose coach Ron Wilson had no problems sharing his anger.
“But the league apparently has addressed it, and we’ll just go forward,”Wilson said. “Cheechoo, I don’t know when he’ll play.
“Hopefully he’ll be able to come back this playoff. I don’t know right now.”
Asked if that meant Cheechoo wouldn’t return in this best-of-seven series or this postseason, Wilson said he did not know. Game 2 is Friday night in Nashville.
Predators coach Barry Trotz studied eight different angles of the collision near the Nashville blue-line nine minutes into the second period. Hartnell was ejected and given a five-minute major for kneeing.
“The more I look at it, the more I realize it’s probably not even a penalty. He went to hit him, Cheechoo tried to get out of the way. Unfortunately, they locked knees, and Cheechoo got the worst of it. In terms of the elbow in the face, which I think was claimed, he hit his mouth on the ice,” Trotz said.
“When you see it at full speed, you think it’s a lot worse.”
Wilson didn’t agree and pointed out Cheechoo, who had cuts on his left cheek and eyebrow, also lost a tooth.
“Again, ask Barry Trotz if he’d say the same thing if he saw Peter Forsberg or Paul Kariya laying there,” Wilson said.
Sharks forward Mike Grier, who helped fill Cheechoo’s spot on their top line with Joe Thornton and Milan Michalek, said he thought the NHL was trying to eliminate shots to the head. Pressed on whether the league had addressed the hit, Wilson said he would not comment.
League disciplinarian Colin Campbell also declined to comment on any additional punishment.
“It’s such a highly charged area of the game and it gets triply charged, if not 10 times charged, in the playoffs so I don’t comment on it at all,” Campbell said.
The Sharks are entitled to be very upset at the prospect of losing Cheechoo. He led the Sharks with 37 goals this season, and he came into the playoffs having scored 20 points in 13 games. He has 19 points in 28 playoff games before Wednesday night.
Rookie Joe Pavelski, a healthy scratch for Game 1, or Mark Smith may replace Cheechoo. The Sharks were 9-2-1 when Pavelski scored a goal this season.
“If he’s not able to go, whoever it is – Pav or Smith – will step in,” Grier said. “We’ll feel confident with that.
“It’s hard to replace a guy who scores as many big goals as Cheech.”
Nashville forward J.P. Dumont, whose second goal with 50.4 seconds left in regulation forced overtime, said he knows Hartnell’s hit wasn’t intentional and called it a part of hockey.
“That’s playoff intensity. You know you’re going to get hit. There’s a lot of stuff (that) happened after the whistle,” Dumont said.
San Jose captain Patrick Marleau said the best revenge would be shaking the Predators’ hands after having pulled out the series victory. San Jose has won five straight against Nashville in the postseason, and Nashville faces a crucial Game 2 on Friday night.
Hartnell, who said he has never been suspended at any level, will be ready and waiting if the Sharks want to come after him.
“I’ll take a punch to the head or a slash to the back of the leg to put us on the power play. We have a great power play. I’m sure they’re smart enough not to take cheap shots. It’s a part of the game,” Hartnell said of what he called an unfortunate collision.
“They got first shot in the series. We have to get them back here on home ice.”