CHICAGO (AP) A jarring hit from Detroit’s Niklas Kronwall, one that flattened Chicago’s Martin Havlat, has put a new spin on the Western Conference finals.
It most likely knocked Havlat, the Blackhawks’ points leader, out for Sunday’s Game 4 and spiked emotions between the old Original Six rivals.
“Marty didn’t have the puck,” Chicago defenseman Brian Campbell said Saturday. “If he hit Marty and hit him clean, that’s fine. That happens. … It’s just how he hits. You can see his forearms coming up and his hands are coming up and he’s lunging forward and jumping into the guy.”
Kronwall received a five-minute interference penalty and was ejected from Friday night’s Game 3 in which the Blackhawks pulled out a 4-3 overtime victory.
Campbell was asked if Kronwall should watch out Sunday for any retaliation.
“I don’t know what will happen to him, but I’m sure there won’t be one check not finished on him,” Campbell said.
Not only will the Blackhawks likely go without Havlat – who had 77 points this season and has 15 more in the playoffs – they’ll probably start backup goalie Cristobal Huet in place of Nikolai Khabibulin.
Khabibulin played the first two periods Friday before leaving with an injury. Huet replaced him and was able to stop a Red Wings’ surge that had produced three quick second-period goals and wiped out Chicago’s 3-0 lead.
Huet held the Red Wings scoreless in the third, and Patrick Sharp’s goal less than two minutes into overtime gave the Blackhawks the win and cut Detroit’s series lead to 2-1.
Detroit coach Mike Babcock said Kris Draper, hurt for most of the playoffs, would be out again Sunday. And star center Pavel Datsyuk, who missed Game 3 with a sore foot, would probably be a game-time decision again.
Havlat was looking down for the puck near the boards in the first period Friday when Kronwall hit him at full speed, smashing him to the ice in a heap. A dazed Havlat stayed down for several minutes before he was helped off the ice. He didn’t return.
“The way I felt things happened, the puck went off the wall and he went to pick it up. I stepped in and he never saw me come. He never touched the puck, but I felt like the puck was right there,” Kronwall said Saturday.
Told that some of the Blackhawks, especially Campbell, thought it was a dirty play, Kronwall said, “I think I would have felt the same way if someone did that to one of my teammates. It’s unfortunate he got hurt and that’s how it is.”
Asked if he hit Havlat in the head, Kronwall said: “Maybe that’s why he got knocked out. I don’t know.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville didn’t directly address reports that Havlat may have lost consciousness when he first crumbled to the ice. He said doctors are monitoring his condition.
“We’re not going to discuss the injury,” Quenneville said. “His health is going to be the first criteria before he’s even going to be considered to be playing.”
Babcock reiterated Saturday his stance from a night earlier: Kronwall’s hit was not a cheap shot. It was a legitimate check and should have not resulted in the five-minute penalty and game misconduct.
“Coaches have bad games. Players have bad games. The league doesn’t let referees have bad games. So has there ever been a bad call? Accountability,” Babcock said.
“To me, that wasn’t a head shot. So I don’t think you should be hunting anyone’s head,” he added. “I think that’s real important. But I also think it’s a contact sport. And the puck was coming around the wall. He saw it coming. He turned, chose not to play it with his stick, was letting it come through his feet. Kronwall stepped up on it. That’s hockey.”
Huet got a four-year, $22.5 million deal as a free agent last summer. The Blackhawks eventually put Khabibulin on waivers, but when no deal could be made to move him, he stuck around. They split time during the regular season, but Khabibulin won the starter’s job for the playoffs. Huet’s appearance Friday was his first in the postseason this year.
“Coming in the third in a 3-3 tie wasn’t something I’d ever experienced and not something I’d recommend,” Huet said Saturday, adding that he’s expecting to start Sunday, even though no announcement was made.
“Now it’s a little different,” he added. “I’m going to have to prepare tonight knowing I’m going to play (Sunday) – I guess.”