Accusations and insinuations ruled the day Monday following Pronger’s one-game suspension for a shot to McAmmond’s head in Game 3 of the Stanley Cup final. The most heated talk was from Neil, the feisty Ottawa Senators winger who was accused by Anaheim GM Brian Burke of trying to take Ducks forward Andy McDonald’s head off with an elbow. McDonald was not hurt on the play.
Burke said Neil’s hit was worse than the forearm to the chops that Pronger delivered on McAmmond early in the third period that knocked the Ottawa centre out cold and left him doubtful to play in Game 4.
Neil took a long run at McDonald, but said the hit was clean.
“My elbows were down and when McDonald sees me, he just falls,” Neil said ahead of Game 4 on Monday night. “I didn’t hit him as good as people think.
“He just bails on the whole situation. That’s his own fault there.”
It’s the second time in this year’s playoffs Pronger has been suspended – he also got one game for banging Tomas Holmstrom’s head off the glass in the Western Conference final – and the sixth time in his career.
Ottawa coach Bryan Murray said Pronger had two more hits to the head in the game, while Neil said illegal hits are a habit with the Ducks star defenceman.
“I don’t go out and stab a guy in the back after a whistle like Pronger does,” said Neil. “Or slash you in the back of the legs, or grab you, and that’s what he does.
“I think the officials are aware of that. You go out and play hard between whistles and if something happens, you take care of it. That’s the way I play. He’s been suspended a numerous amount of games for different incidents. I haven’t, so figure it out.”
There are people in Buffalo who would beg to differ after Neil’s shoulder hit to the head that KO’d Sabres star Chris Drury in February. That sparked a mass brawl highlighted by two separate fights involving Ottawa’s Ray Emery – a clear win over fellow goalie Martin Biron and a decision loss to tough guy Andrew Peters.
Anaheim forward Ryan Getzlaf wasn’t impressed with Neil’s outburst.
“That’s childish stuff,” he said. “We’re not going to call anybody out.
“The same thing happens to our guy, but he doesn’t get hurt. That happens on the ice and that’s where it should stay. We don’t need to play these games in the media.”
But when hits to the head occur, tempers flare and words are exchanged, especially in front of the media.
That the incident happened just before the NHL’s general managers met on Monday in Ottawa, with stiffer penalties for hits to the head high on the agenda, added extra spice to the debate.
Murray opted for a smiling riposte for Burke’s attempt to deflect criticism off Pronger and onto Neil.
“Brian did a great job of giving you guys (reporters) a story and camouflaging what was the real point,” said Murray. “I’ve got two other incidents with Pronger hitting to the head.
“Corey Perry never hits anyone without going to the head. There’s lots we can point out. But Brian sold lots of papers for you and gave you an easy Sunday afternoon.”
Perry was as surprised as any to hear his name mentioned.
“I don’t go out there and try to hurt anybody,” he said. “It’s not my style of game.
“I play hard and try to win. But if they think that, good for them.”
That the Senators considered putting McAmmond in the lineup at all prompted a tongue-in-cheek insinuation from Ducks coach Randy Carlyle’s that “people make huge strides in their recovery after suspensions. It’s amazing.”
McAmmond, who lay on the ice for several minutes after the hit and said he had headaches and a stiff neck the next day, was one of the cooler heads. But he agreed that Pronger deserved to be suspended.
“I think I caught him flat-footed because there was a turnover,” he said of the incident. “I was just trying to step around.
“It looked like he was trying to step up on me and play the body and when I tried to step around, he reactively threw his elbow out and that was it.”
McAmmond recalled when he was playing for the Calgary Flames and teammate Matthew Lombardi took an elbow to the head from Dallas defenceman Derian Hatcher on a similar play.
“Lombardi was still having repercussions from it almost a year later when I saw him in the minors,” added McAmmond. “There was no suspension.
“I think you should look at the flagrancy and not at whether the guy gets up right away or is gone the whole year.”
As for exaggerating his injury to help draw Pronger’s suspension, McAmmond said “they can think what they want.”
Pronger didn’t dispute his suspension, although he denied trying to injure McAmmond.
But blows to the head, intentional or not, raise concern from both teams involved.
“Chris got his arm up and got him in the chin,” said Perry. “They’re trying to get head shots out of the game, so it’s unfortunate that we lose him, but on the other hand, you don’t like to see a player get hurt and lay on the ice like that.”