OTTAWA — Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman was on his back behind his goal line, and teammate Steve Downie was fighting Ottawa tough guy Chris Neil in his defense.
Tampa Bay fell 3-2 in overtime Thursday night at Scotiabank Place, but the result seemed secondary after Hedman, 18, Tampa Bay's prized rookie, left the game in the second period and did not return after Neil crushed him on a play that, depending on who was speaking, either was defended or condemned.
Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, after saying he believes Hedman is "okay" and calling him day to day, said the hit was clean. So did Neil:
"I got my shoulder right in his chest. He's like 8 feet tall (actually 6-6), so it's not like I could hit him in the head."
Still, replays indicated the 6-1 Neil made no play for the puck, which Hedman seemed not to touch, and caught the No. 2 overall pick in June's draft high with his shoulder or upper arm.
"I didn't like the hit, and I think there should be some kind of repercussions," Lightning center Zenon Konopka said. "Obviously, this is like a brother to me, Hedman, and we're upset.
"This kid puts his heart on the line every night."
Hedman was receiving treatment and unavailable for comment.
As for the game, Alex Tanguay and Steven Stamkos scored on the power play for Tampa Bay (5-4-5), which was outshot 29-20 and surrendered 17 takeaways but got a point for the regulation tie. Goalie Antero Niittymaki was stellar with 26 saves, including a spectacular post-to-post stop of Alex Picard's in-close one-timer to preserve a 1-1 first-period tie.
Jason Spezza's first goal of the season, with 42.4 seconds left in the extra period, was the winner and came with Mattias Ohlund off for holding.
"There's still a couple of individuals who are not giving us much," Tocchet said. "We can't afford passengers. It's a gritty game. We need some grittiness from some of the wingers. But for the most part, guys worked hard."
Neil's hit occurred with 5:48 left in the second period as Hedman tried to play the puck behind the Lightning net.
"It was a clean hit," Neil said. "I was just coming in to take the boards. I think he bobbled the puck at the last second, and he didn't see me coming."
Downie, who said he did not see the hit, said he "wouldn't doubt" if it was dirty.
"His job is to make hits," Downie said of Neil. "He's not the cleanest player. He's got to look himself in the mirror."
But Tocchet said that pending a closer look at a replay, referees Dennis LaRue and Kerry Fraser got it right.
"It was a good hit," Tocchet said.
"The puck was there. That's hockey."
First Period—1, Tampa Bay, Tanguay 2 (Halpern, Downie), 3:03 (pp). 2, Ottawa, Alfredsson 6 (Spezza, Michalek), 5:02. Penalties—Neil, Ott (interference), 1:34; Stamkos, TB (hooking), 8:31; Foligno, Ott (hooking), 9:45; Spezza, Ott (slashing), 14:33; Walker, TB (tripping), 17:27.
Second Period—3, Ottawa, Fisher 6 (Kovalev, Spezza), 12:00 (pp). 4, Tampa Bay, Stamkos 12 (St. Louis, Lecavalier), 13:40 (pp). Penalties—Neil, Ott (tripping), 6:55; Ohlund, TB (interference), 11:06; Cheechoo, Ott (interference), 13:23; Downie, TB, minor-major-misconduct (instigator, fighting), 14:12; Neil, Ott, major (fighting), 14:12; Craig, TB, major (fighting), 20:00; Carkner, Ott, major (fighting), 20:00.
Third Period—None. Penalties—Campoli, Ott (tripping), 1:36; Kuba, Ott (delay of game), 9:15; Meszaros, TB (roughing), 15:51.
Overtime—5, Ottawa, Spezza 1 (Kuba, Fisher), 4:17 (pp). Penalties—Ohlund, TB (holding), 3:00. Shots on Goal—Tampa Bay 7-6-7-0—20. Ottawa 14-6-6-3—29. Power-play opportunities—Tampa Bay 2 of 7; Ottawa 2 of 6. Goalies—Tampa Bay, Niittymaki 3-1-2 (29 shots-26 saves). Ottawa, Leclaire 5-3-1 (20-18). A—17,511 (19,153).