DENVER – Vegas forward Ryan Reaves was suspended two games by the NHL on Monday for his roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct on Colorado's Ryan Graves during the Golden Knights' 7-1 loss in Game 1 of their second-round series Sunday.
The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced earlier in the day on social media it was holding a hearing with Reaves, who drew a match penalty for attempting to injure an opponent — Graves — at 8:04 of the third period in a skirmish-filled game.
In a video posted on the league's site explaining the decision, the NHL said both the officials and Reaves acknowledged “a chunk of Graves' hair was pulled out by Reaves” during the scrum. The league also noted Reaves' actions — the roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct — were “retaliation” for an earlier hit by Graves on Mattias Janmark.
“Reaves and the Golden Knights acknowledged that, angered by the earlier hit, he takes this opportunity to send a message to Graves as payback,” the league said in the video. “And while some of the actions taken by Reaves could be sufficiently penalized by the on-ice officials, the totality of Reaves' actions combined with the game situation and the retribution involved in the play necessitates supplemental discipline.”
The NHL's Department of Player Safety cited the fact it was roughing and unsportsmanlike conduct and considered Reaves' history — he was fined twice and suspended twice previously.
Before the discipline was announced, Vegas coach Pete DeBoer stuck up for Reaves, who avoided punishment for a hit from behind in a Game 7 win over Minnesota on Friday that sent Ryan Suter's face into the goal post.
“For me, Ryan is one of the cleanest tough guys I’ve seen in the league in my 12, 13 years," DeBoer said of Reaves as his team tries to regroup for Game 2 on Wednesday. “He’s consistently a clean, physical player.”
The Avalanche weren't thrilled with the play on Graves, who was thrown to the ice as his helmet rolled away. Graves stayed down as trainers tended to him with skirmishes going on all around.
“Graves is down in a vulnerable position and he just stays on top of him and obviously hits him,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said. "So I didn’t like the play. But (DeBoer) knows his player. I guess I don’t think that (Reaves) is out there trying to injure people on purpose. He’s just got a ruggedness to his game.
“In that situation in the game, I just didn’t like it that much.”
Same went for Avalanche captain Gabriel Landeskog, who quipped after Sunday’s rout: “Reaves is on a mission to hurt somebody in the third and that’s what he goes out and does.”
DeBoer offered a defense.
“I do know a couple of things: His gloves never came off, nobody was hurt on the play,” DeBoer said. “Whether they’re going to look at what’s between the lines there, and think that there’s something there that maybe I don’t see, that’s their department, not mine.”
The Golden Knights were none-too-pleased with a chest-high hit Graves delivered on Janmark near the boards in the second period. Janmark didn’t return and DeBoer had no update Monday.
“That’s tough to watch,” DeBoer said after the game. “A defenseless player, one of your teammates getting hit like that, it’s hard not to carry that emotion through the rest of the game.”
The lopsided nature of Game 1 was a surprise given the two teams were so evenly matched throughout the regular season. They tied for the most points in the league, but the Avalanche earned the Presidents’ Trophy — along with home-ice advantage in the postseason — by virtue of a tiebreaker (more regulation wins).
Fatigue may have played a factor. The Golden Knights had one day off following a grueling first-round series with Minnesota. Meanwhile, the Avalanche had nearly a week off after a four-game sweep of St. Louis.
Colorado showed off its early speed in jumping out to a 5-0 lead on goaltender Robin Lehner, who was the surprise starter. Marc-Andre Fleury is expected back in goal Wednesday. Fleury played in all seven games against the Wild and posted a 1.71 goals-against average.
After re-watching the footage, DeBoer noted: “It wasn’t all bad, as ridiculous as that sounds, when you look at the box score.
"We’re deep enough into the season that we know what our good game looks like,” DeBoer added. “We know what we have to get to and it’s a matter of getting back to it.”
NOTES: NHL commissioner Gary Bettman upheld the eight-game suspension of Colorado forward Nazem Kadri for his illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues defenseman Justin Faulk in Game 2 on May 19. Kadri has served three games.
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