Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak will miss the next two games after being suspended for elbowing the Sabres’ Kyle Okposo in the third period of Thursday’s 6-5 loss at Amalie Arena.
The NHL’s department of player safety handed down the discipline Friday following a hearing. Cernak won’t play in road games Saturday in Detroit and Sunday in Pittsburgh.
With the teams tied at 5 and 1:37 left in regulation, Cernak hit Okposo in the head with his left elbow as the Buffalo forward cut toward the center of the ice from the left side boards just outside the Lightning blue line. No penalty was called on the play.
After reviewing the play, the league determined that Cernak shifted his left arm and elbow back and out to “get a piece of Okposo, using the extended elbow to deliver a forceful check that makes contact with Okposo’s head.”
“It is important to note that the onus is on Cernak to deliver this hit in a legal fashion,” the department said in a video explaining the decision.
Cernak has been suspended once previously during his 277-game NHL career, a two-game suspension for a similar hit on Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin in 2019.
Thursday’s hit sparked the ire of the Sabres bench after there was no whistle on the play. A scrum between the teams that included Okposo, whose lip was bloodied, also ensued. Okposo, who has a history of concussions, remained in the game.
Without Cernak, the Lightning’s top right-shot defenseman and a key member of the penalty kill unit, either right-shot defenseman Cal Foote or left-shot defenseman Haydn Fleury will draw in against the Red Wings and Penguins.
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