BOSTON — It is hard to imagine things going any better for the Boston Bruins in the first game of their 2018 playoff season Thursday night.
The opposite is true of Toronto, and things got worse for the Maple Leafs on Friday.
And much better for Boston.
Nazem Kadri, who took a run and then left his feet to hit a defenseless Tommy Wingels, on his knees against the boards, was suspended for three games by the NHL. He will be unavailable for Games 2 of the series Saturday night and then 3 and 4 in Toronto.
The Leafs, anticipating the suspension, which many felt would be one or perhaps two games, practiced in Boston without Kadri on Friday — Leo Komarov moving up to the top line. That is a significant drop in talent level from Kadri, a strong two-way center.
The word came down early Friday night that the Leafs would be missing a 32-goal scorer and key two-way player.
Even though the infraction appeared obvious, Kadri, who matched his career high with his second straight 32-goal season this year, defended the hit, which drew a major penalty and game misconduct, Thursday night.
“I certainly wasn’t trying to hit him while he was down like that,” he said. “I was already committed to the hit. If he’s still standing up, there isn’t anything wrong on that, but he fell.
“He was turning up the wall, so I was committed to the hit. He ended up falling. It happened pretty quick, and I think he was reaching for the puck. I don’t think I stuck my leg out or my arm out, or whatever the case is, but it’s in the hands of the NHL at this point.”
The NHL Player Safety folks didn’t see it the same way.
“It is important to note that Kadri is in control of this hit at all times and while Wingels falling might not have been anticipated, Kadri has enough time to recognize Wingels is on his knees and in a defenseless position before committing to the hit,” player safety said in its video. “Instead of avoiding or minimizing this hit, Kadri drives his hip into Wingels’ upper body with enough force to cause Wingels to collide dangerously to the boards and cause himself to lift off the ice upon impact.
“…This is a forceful and illegal hit.”
Wingels wasn’t on the ice for practice Friday as he was being further evaluated. He is questionable for Saturday and it appeared Riley Nash (severely cut ear) would miss at least one more game.
After the game, Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said, “I thought it was the appropriate call. I thought it was a five-minute major. Where it goes from there, out of my hands.”
The Bruins scored three power-play goals in Game 1 and their power play is clicking at a 36 percent clip (27 of 75) since March 1.
The home team also got a goal from Brad Marchand and is 14-1 when Marchand scores a goal in a playoff game. He has 18 goals and 45 points in 73 career playoff games.
Marchand also provided some levity in the opener when he licked — yes, licked — the face of Toronto’s Komarov after the two had tussled most of the night. It was a repeat of something Marchand had done during a regular-season game.
“I was trying to get into his head,” Marchand said Thursday. “He kept coming after me after whistles and stuff like that every time he was going to the bench. I just thought that if he wanted to keep touching me and that we were going to get a little closer, then he might want to.”
Getting little help from his teammate, Fredrick Andersen suffered only his second loss in 12 career decisions against the Bruins.
“We all know in this room that wasn’t our best game, so we’re excited to get back tomorrow,” Andersen said Friday.
That may well be more difficult with Kadri gone.
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