- Pierre LeBrun, NHL
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LOS ANGELES -- It’s not just one hit. It's a Raffi Torres hit.
And that’s why it takes on a whole different meaning, for better or for worse.
Torres faces a disciplinary hearing in New York on Thursday after knocking Los Angeles Kings center Jarret Stoll out of Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals with a hard hit, and is suspended pending the outcome.
If this had been Joe Pavelski leveling Stoll with the same hit, you wonder if there would even be a hearing.
But it wasn't Pavelski. It was Torres, a repeat offender with a reputation cemented once and for all last spring when he crushed Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa in the first round of the playoffs.
"Questionable," Kings forward Dustin Penner said Wednesday when asked about the Torres hit on Stoll. "Tough position, I think everybody knows the player [Torres], when the player's not suspecting you to hit him. It's not the first time a hit like that's happened."
Kings head coach Darryl Sutter called the hit "careless."
"It's just frustrating to see that, that's all," he later added.
Predictably, both teams have vastly different views on the hit. The Sharks don’t even think it merited the penalty Torres was assessed Tuesday night.
"We kind of questioned the call of a charging penalty, to be honest with you, so we were kind of shocked today to hear he has to fly to New York for the hearing, because we didn't see anything wrong on the play," Sharks captain Joe Thornton said Wednesday.
"It's unfortunate Jarret was hurt, but we just thought it was a clean hit," added Thornton. "We even saw it again today and we thought it was a clean hit."
The NHL obviously disagrees. For one, I think the league believes the head was the principal point of contact, and surely it also doesn't like the path Torres took to the hit.
More than anything though, this is about a player with a reputation.
Otherwise, I’m not sure this is even something the league looks at.
"I was on the ice, basically right beside it, and thought it was shoulder to shoulder, clean hit," said Sharks center Logan Couture. "Obviously, he was injured on the play so you hope the other guy is OK, but from what I saw, it was a clean hit.
"Right after the play happened, I was surprised there was even a penalty on the play because he didn't charge him. He was two feet away when he hit him. I think I looked back at the ref and was just shocked that there was a penalty."
Stoll was reaching for the puck and had his head down on the play, no question. But Rule 48 (illegal check to the head) protects a player whether he has his head up or not.
And that continues to be a debate in hockey circles.
"It almost seems like the player getting hit has no responsibility at all right now," said Thornton. "I think Jarret probably wasn't expecting to get hit, and it just looked like a clean hit. But it just seems the responsibility is on the hitter right now, not the receiver.
"The way I was brought up is to keep your head up," added Thornton. "When I was 6 years old, I was taught that."
Sound familiar? This was the same back-and-forth the Montreal Canadiens and Ottawa Senators had after Ottawa's Eric Gryba was suspended for leveling Montreal's Lars Eller, who had his head down on the play.
But Penner says that's not a fair comparison.
"I think that hit was fine," he said of the Gryba hit. "It’s a split-second decision. You guys can slow it down to .001 milliseconds, but you gotta make that hit. And this one, you don't have to make that hit, that's probably the difference."
And whereas the Gryba hit was the catalyst for an emotion-filled series, culminating in a line brawl in Ottawa in Game 3, the Kings insist they're not going to get drawn into that.
"I think we're clearly a team that's not going to lower ourselves to retribution," said Sutter. "That’s not going to come into play, that's zero. We talked about not taking retaliation or dumb penalties, that's not going to change."
"It's the playoffs, the best retribution is winning games right now," added Kings captain Dustin Brown.
These guys are the defending Stanley Cup champions for a reason.
"We're emotionally invested enough," said Penner. "We have a lot on the line. We want to defend our Stanley Cup, we're not going to go looking for bulletin-board material, we don't need that type of motivation."
Adding to the intrigue is that Torres and Stoll were good buddies during their time in Edmonton. Penner, who also played with Torres in Edmonton, wasn’t 100 percent sure, but he thought Stoll might have been in Torres' wedding party.
It just goes to show there are no friends on the ice during the playoffs.
In the meantime, the Kings will miss Stoll. The dependable No. 3 center is a clutch veteran.
"He's a really good player for us, he was a big part of winning the Stanley Cup, really good center man, guy who plays minutes, plays special teams, so obviously our player is a little more important than theirs," Sutter said in a subtle jab at Torres.
Asked how long Stoll might be out, Sutter responded:
"How long’s the series? He's day-to-day, but the series is seven games in 12 days. It's tough."
Center Brad Richardson figures to draw back into the lineup for the Kings.
"We have good options," said Sutter. "Brad's used to playing in our top nine, we'll figure that out."
The Stoll injury, however, further brings into focus how this season is different from last for the reigning Cup champions.
They were relatively injury-free last spring en route to the Cup, amazingly using the same six defensemen for every playoff game, and keeping their key forwards intact as well.
"I've said a lot of times, that will never happen again to use the same six defensemen basically from trade deadline through the middle of June," said Sutter. "That'll never happen, it's impossible.
“But looking back on last year, we used different forwards, but we just mixed our top nine around -- they all played every game."
9dScott Burnside and Craig Custance