WASHINGTON — Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin received a one-game suspension Friday for punching Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph in the face during Tampa Bay’s 7-6 overtime win Thursday in Detroit.
Unhappy after a check from behind by Joseph sent him sprawling headfirst into the boards — Larkin missed the end of last season when he suffered a neck injury that left him in a cervical hard collar for eight weeks — Larkin got up and landed a right-handed punch to Joseph’s face with 9:20 left in the second period, drawing a match penalty and ejection from the game.
The Department of Player Safety ruled that Larkin’s hit met the criteria for additional discipline because of “the retaliatory nature of the punch, and the force with which it is delivered to an unsuspecting opponent.”
Though the league ruled that “Joseph has no warning that he is about to be punched and Larkin gives him no time to brace for contact, defend himself, or choose to engage in the altercation,” Larkin never previously being suspended or fined likely played a role in him getting only a one-game suspension.
The punch, and the way it was handled by the on-ice officials, upset the Lightning bench and seemingly propelled the team to a come-from-behind win after it trailed by three goals three times in the game.
“It’s a sucker punch,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said to reporters after the game. “Whether it was hard or not, still, that’s what it was.”
Joseph, who received a two-minute roughing penalty for the initial hit, was on the ice for several seconds after Larkin slugged him before leaving the bench for treatment. He returned to play two brief shifts at the end of the second period, but he didn’t return for the third.
Coach Jon Cooper didn’t say much after the game about Joseph’s health or availability for tonight’s game against the Capitals. Asked if Joseph would be okay to return soon, Cooper simply said, “We hope so.”
Larkin didn’t practice Friday and was to see a specialist, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill told reporters in Detroit.
Joseph entered this season with a larger role, taking on penalty-killing duties after the Lightning lost three of their top four forwards on the kill in the offseason. His exit Thursday forced rookie Taylor Raddysh into that role alongside Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. During 5-on-5 play, the Lightning double-shifted Ross Colton and Alex Killorn to accommodate for Joseph’s absence.
The Lightning didn’t practice Friday; they traveled from Detroit to Washington.
Blashill said Friday that he believes Larkin’s injury at the end of last season, suffered on an uncalled cross-check to the back of the neck from Stars forward Jamie Benn, played in to his reaction to the hit by Joseph.
“I think (the Lightning) got a player that’s trying to play up in the lineup for the first time,” Blashill said of Joseph. “He hits (Larkin) right in the numbers and (Larkin) has his head basically (down) going into the glass. At that point, he gets up, there’s no penalty called again, and I think he’s thinking that we have to police ourselves out here.”
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The game had become increasingly testy in the minutes leading up to that moment, starting when Red Wings forward Pius Suter made contact with Andrei Vasilevskiy in the crease after a whistle, raising the Lightning goaltender’s ire.
While chasing a puck in the Red Wings’ zone, Joseph hit Larkin from behind into the side boards. Larkin jumped up quickly and, without hesitation, slugged Joseph as he skated by, then threw off his gloves to challenge any takers.
Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta was the first to get to Larkin, taking him to the ground and starting a pile near the right faceoff dot.
Rutta and Joseph received two-minute roughing penalties, while Larkin was the only Detroit player to be penalized, creating a 4-on-3 power play for the Red Wings that Cooper called “mind-boggling.”
The Red Wings scored on the power play — Tyler Bertuzzi netting his third of four goals in the game to put Detroit up 4-1 — but Stamkos scored twice on the Lightning power play that followed from the remainder of Larkin’s five-minute penalty.
Contact Eduardo A. Encina at email@example.com. Follow @EddieintheYard.
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