CHICAGO — The NHL suspended Phoenix Coyotes forward Raffi Torres indefinitely on Wednesday for knocking Chicago’s Marian Hossa out of the game — and maybe the playoffs — with a shoulder blow to the head.
Hossa won’t play in Game 4 on Thursday with the Coyotes leading the series 2-1. He was at home resting, exchanging texts with his Blackhawks teammates less than 24 hours after he was carried off the ice on a stretcher and taken to a hospital.
The hard knock by Torres was the latest in a first round that has been dominated by brawls and violent hits. The NHL scheduled a Friday hearing in New York for a player who has a reputation for big — and some say dirty — hits.
Depending on the locker room, the severity of the blow — one year after Torres did the same thing to Chicago’s Brent Seabrook while playing for Vancouver — differed and took the spotlight from a competitive first-round matchup that has seen all three games go to overtime.
“I’ve seen a lot of other hits like it in the league. It’s a fast game,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said Wednesday. “The thing about TV is you can slow it down and you can click and click and click it. When you’re out there on the ice, it’s not slowed down and click, click, click. It’s a fast game.’
“I don’t think there was any malicious intent on Raffi’s part,” he added. “He’s a hard hitter. That’s the way he plays the game. He turned, coming full speed, caught a guy right in the chest. Unfortunately, the player was injured.”
Torres’ skates were off the ice as he hit Hossa and sent Chicago’s regular-season points leader crashing to the ice in the first period. Hossa had just passed the puck when he was hit.
“There’s only been one dirty hit in our series and you saw the same thing from that guy last year in the same series,” Chicago’s Patrick Sharp said. “You know it’s coming. You try to warn your linemates and be aware when he’s on the ice. He’s got a history of targeting guys’ heads and having questionable hits. It makes it that much more frustrating to see it happen, but we got to rally behind Hoss.”
Chicago coach Joel Quenneville reiterated that the hit on Hossa was “brutal.” He said there was little change in Hossa’s condition without being specific, but said he was definitely out for Thursday’s game.
Asked if Hossa’s injury was long-term, Quenneville said: “We’ll see.”
Hossa went to a hospital for tests Tuesday night before he was taken home. A team doctor said a full recovery is expected but there is no timetable.
Torres, who wasn’t available Wednesday, spoke after the game and said: “I felt like it was a hockey play. I was just trying to finish my hit out there.”
The Blackhawks weren’t buying it.
“In the history of the game, hitting is used to dislodge a player from the puck, not the intent to injure when you don’t have the puck because you aren’t aware. To me, that wasn’t a hockey play,” Blackhawks forward Andrew Brunette said. “When you don’t have the puck, there shouldn’t be that kind of contact.”
The Coyotes were unhappy when Chicago rookie Andrew Shaw collided with goalie Mike Smith behind the net in Game 2 and knocked him to the ice. Smith was able to stay in the game and Shaw got a game misconduct. On Tuesday, he was suspended for three games.
Torres was not penalized for his hit on Hossa right in front of the benches. Quenneville said after the game that the refereeing was “a disgrace.”
Quenneville said the Blackhawks were still angry Wednesday and hoped to channel that into a better performance Thursday. They’ve taken the first lead in all three games and were up 1-0 midway through the final period Tuesday night before a 65-second span of 4-on-4 led to three goals — two by Phoenix.
Coyotes veteran Ray Whitney said he understood how the Blackhawks felt.
“We would probably be equally upset if our guy was knocked out of the game like that. That’s unfortunate that he got injured. We certainly don’t want to see that,” Whitney said. “I can understand their frustration, as they can probably understand ours when our most valuable player (Smith) gets hit in the jaw. …You don’t want to see anybody in our league get injured. I can understand the frustration, and I can understand the league’s going to handle it the way they have to handle it.”
According to the league, the hearing was planned for Wednesday but moved to Friday at the request of Torres and the players’ union.
“It’s out of our hands,” Tippett said. “Now it’s in their hands. We’ll deal with it as further stuff comes down from them.”