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Winnipeg Jets' Mark Scheifele (55) hits Montreal Canadiens' Jake Evans (71) after he scored an empty net goal during third period NHL Stanley Cup hockey action in Winnipeg, June 2, 2021.JOHN WOODS/The Canadian Press

Paul Maurice wasn’t in a mood to back off.

Late Wednesday night, the head coach of the Winnipeg Jets had defended “The Hit” – Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele on Montreal Canadiens forward Jake Evans – moments after Evans had been taken off the ice on a stretcher.

The Canadiens had taken Game 1 of Round 2 with a convincing 5-3 win, Evans scoring the final goal into an empty Winnipeg net seconds before Scheifele crashed into him at full speed, knocking the Montreal player out and leaving him concussed.

It all seemed strangely non-Scheifele, a mild-mannered, polite young man who had only 12 penalty minutes all season – yet on this night raced the entire length of the Winnipeg ice to lay out the much-smaller Montreal player.

Thursday afternoon, while conceding that Scheifele “absolutely clobbered the guy at the end of the game,” Maurice argued, “Hitting is part of the game. It was a heavy, heavy hit for sure – but it was clean.”

Others weren’t so sure, including the NHL’s department of player safety, which convened a telephone hearing late Thursday that resulted in Scheifele being suspended for four games. In theory, he could not play the Canadiens again this year should Montreal win the series in five games or fewer.

Perhaps this is a blessing, as the tempers that flared at the end of the game would be certain to explode in future play.

Montreal defenceman Joel Edmundson, perhaps speaking for his teammates, had said after the game, “The players will sort this out on the ice.” Edmundson vowed, “We’re going to make his life miserable.”

“Where the NHL refuses to act,” long-time Montreal sports columnist Jack Todd tweeted: “civil authorities have to take over. I see no reason why Mark Scheifele shouldn’t be in jail now, charged with aggravated assault. It’s the only way this is ever going to stop before someone gets killed.”

That, of course, has been tried before – most famously by Ontario Attorney-General Roy McMurtry in the 1970s – with little effect on the way the game is played.

Big hits, dirty hits, sneaky hits happen in playoff hockey and they are well remembered by those fans who often feel the blow harder and longer than the player they see as wronged. Toronto Maple Leaf fans still simmer when remembering Wayne Gretzky’s high stick cutting Doug Gilmour during the 1993 conference final, yet no official apparently saw that happen. Moments later, Gretzky scored what would win the game.

They also remember, with not quite the level of anger, Daniel Alfredsson’s hit-from-behind on Darcy Tucker when the Leafs and Ottawa Senators met in the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Hockey history is filled with gut-wrenching hits, many illegal, some quite legal by NHL rules. The Vancouver Canucks’ Raffi Torres slamming into Chicago Blackhawks defenceman Brent Seabrook in the 2011 playoffs. New Jersey Devils defenceman Scott Stevens on Slava Kozlov, on Paul Kariya, on Eric Lindros ...

Had the NHL’s department of player safety decided not to suspend Scheifele, but only fine him, there’s no doubt how Game 2 would begin. As the headline over a brilliant essay by NHL Hall of Famer Ken Dryden put it recently in The Washington Post, “It’s ‘The Code’ of the NHL, and it has no cure for stupid.”

“There has always been a basic understanding in hockey: You do wrong to me, and I do wrong to you,” Dryden wrote. “You ‘take the number’ of the other guy, and eventually get him back. Like the Golden Rule, except instead of a virtuous cycle, a vicious one.

“But I don’t remember when the Code became so unassailable, so almost biblical. When the Code kicks in, that is when things can get stupid.”

Winnipeg and Montreal fans will debate the Scheifele hit long after both Scheifele and Evans have left the game. Just as they still talk about Torres on Seabrook, Lindros on so many.

As Maurice saw it, Scheifele’s feet never left the ice, no elbow shot out, no headhunting took place. “It wasn’t a particularly physical game,” the Winnipeg coach told reporters Thursday. “There were some hits, there was a little bit of chirping, but there wasn’t a whole lot of it.”

Scheifele received a major penalty, Maurice says, because of the scrum that ensued the “clean” hit. “That was a judgment call,” he said, “not an obvious ‘Oh my God, what’s going on with Mark Scheifele?’”

Yet that is exactly what many were saying.

Maurice’s Montreal counterpart, Dominique Ducharme, took the unusual step of opening his Thursday news conference with praise for a Winnipeg player. Nikolaj Ehlers had used his body and arms to protect the unconscious Evans from the churning scrum that had formed about Scheifele.

“I know him well,” Ducharme said of Ehlers. “I coached him for two years. I appreciate what he did.”

Ducharme confirmed Evans suffered a concussion, although he stayed in the Canadiens hotel under care of team doctors rather than be taken to hospital.

“It’s scary seeing your teammate lying on the ice like that, unconscious,” Montreal forward Paul Byron said. Evans, a penalty-kill specialist, is popular with his teammates. “The guys on the team,” Byron said, “they love him.”

The plan now, Byron added, is to “Win some hockey games so that Jake can come back.”

“The best way to get back at them is to win the series,” Canadiens’ defenceman Jeff Petry added.

“We’re going to play them the same way as if Scheifele was in the lineup.”