Mat Barzal was more than frustrated.
The Islanders‘ franchise center received a five-minute cross-checking major and a game misconduct as the second period concluded in Game 5 on Monday, the Islanders already trailing by six on the way to ab 8-0 thumping.
The loss pushed them to the brink in their best-of-seven Stanley Cup semifinals against the Lightning. Barzal went after Tampa Bay defenseman Jan Rutta, greeting him with two forceful blows. The second one caught Rutta up high in the face and he went down to the ice quickly.
Now, all focus shifts to the NHL’s Department of Player Safety, which will most likely review the play and could hand down supplemental discipline. The difference between a fine and a suspension could be the difference in this series.
Rutta did not return to the game.
This was a dark moment in Barzal’s career, but not unprecedented.
Barzal has taken some careless penalties in the past. The last time the 2018 Calder Trophy winner delivered a cross-check of this caliber, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz sent him a message.
Barzal cross-checked Capitals defenseman Nick Jensen on March 16, directly leading to an Alex Ovechkin goal. Trotz benched Barzal for the first 8:14 of the third period, showing how the bench boss felt about the first-line center losing his cool.
“Absolutely, it was a message,” Trotz said after benching Barzal then. “He has to fight through all of that stuff.”
This time, Trotz might not have a chance to send any message to Barzal — that decision is likely in the league’s hands now.
The 8-0 bludgeoning Monday night in Tampa was the worst loss in franchise history. But if the Islanders lose Barzal for Wednesday’s Game 6, that could be the bigger loss.
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