The NHL has suspended New York Rangers defenceman John Moore for two games for an illegal check to the head of Montreal forward Dale Weise in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final.
Moore was given a major penalty and ejected from Tuesday night’s game at Montreal’s Bell Centre when, at 10:41 of the third period, he nailed Weise with a blindside open-ice hit that was almost identical to Montreal forward Brandon Prust’s unpenalized hit on Derek Stepan in Game 3.
Weise’s helmet was knocked off after Tuesday night’s hit and he was wobbly when he got up, with teammate P.K. Subban grabbing him in a bear hug for support.
He left for treatment but returned to the bench late in the period.
The NHL Department of Player Safety explained on a video on the league’s website that Moore drove upwards when he hit Weise, making the forward’s head the primary point of contact. The league said that Weise made no sudden movements prior to the hit, so the onus was on Moore to avoid contact with Weise’s head.
Prior to the NHL’s ruling, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault argued that any extra discipline against Moore for the hit was unnecessary.
“It doesn’t meet the league standard as far as a late hit,” Vigneault told reporters at a Wednesday morning availability in Montreal the day after the Habs’ 7-4 win. “It was a hit that Johnny caught him a little high in the chest, (the) player didn’t see it coming.
“It probably warrants the penalty that was given on the ice. Other than that, I don’t see what else it could warrant, but I’ve been surprised before. We’ll see what happens.”
Moore plays on New York’s third defensive pairing with Kevin Klein.
The win staved off elimination for Montreal, narrowing the Rangers’ lead in the series to three games to two. Game 6 is Thursday at Madison Square Garden.
The series has already seen two suspensions — New York’s Dan Carcillo was banned for 10 games for jostling a linesman in the wake of the Prust hit.
Prust, who had been suspended once before by the league, was given a two-game ban for the late check, which the NHL deemed as interference.
Vigneault said the Moore and Prust cases were different.
“Well, the player didn’t see him coming, obviously, but the guy (Weise) was admiring his pass a little bit at the same time,” he said. “Unfortunately, it was a hit and because of the force of the hit, the head seemed to snap back a little bit. But as far as what I know about league standards and from what I heard from the Prust hit where the dynamics of the hit changed because Stepan was hurt, I don’t see that at this time right now.”
Stepan’s jaw was broken by Prust’s hit but the Rangers’ centre returned to action Tuesday after undergoing surgery, and scored two goals while wearing a chin guard.