Flyers’ Vigneault backs Niskanen before hearing

Philadelphia Flyers coach Alain Vigneault defended Matt Niskanen for his cross-check on Montreal‘s Brendan Gallagher, saying it was “a hockey play that unfortunately cut him a little bit.”

Niskanen will have a hearing with the NHL’s department of player safety Thursday over the incident, which occurred in the third period of the Flyers’ Game 5 loss Wednesday.

“In my estimation, Gallagher got up and seemed fine. He was talking to the referees. The whole time that he was on the bench, he was talking to our players for the rest of the game,” Vigneault said Thursday. “Gallagher is a very competitive player, but I don’t think it’s Nisky’s fault. [Gallagher] might not be as tall as the other guys, but he competes as big if not bigger than anybody else.”

Gallagher has a broken jaw, Canadiens general manager Marc Bergevin told reporters Thursday. Gallagher needs surgery and will miss at least the rest of the Canadiens-Flyers series, Bergevin said.

A 5-foot-9 forward who is an emotional leader for the Canadiens, Gallagher also lost at least one tooth on the play, which left his mouth bloody. Niskanen was not penalized.

The Canadiens survived elimination with a 5-3 win, but the Flyers lead the series 3-2 with Game 6 on Friday. Gallagher scored in Wednesday’s win, his first goal of the postseason after leading all players in the playoffs with 37 shots.

In Vigneault’s news conference, which took place before the Bergevin injury update, he was asked in French about the Canadiens classifying Gallagher as “questionable” for Game 6. Vigneault began laughing and responded, in French: “If you see my smile, it says it all.”

Canadiens interim coach Kirk Muller said the team has footage of the play that it sent to the league.

“I think that the video will definitely explain what they’ll see,” Muller said. “But we’re confident the video will show what it shows.”

Niskanen joined the Flyers this season via a trade from the Washington Capitals to add veteran experience on the blue line. He won a Stanley Cup with Washington in 2018. Niskanen is second among Flyers defensemen in time on ice, behind only Ivan Provorov.

The 33-year-old doesn’t have a lengthy history with the player safety department, but he did receive a $5,000 fine — the maximum allowed by the collective bargaining agreement — in February for a slash on Columbus Blue Jackets forward Gustav Nyquist. In the 2017 playoffs, Niskanen evaded a suspension after a cross-check to the head of Sidney Crosby in Game 3 of the Capitals’ second-round series against the Penguins. The Crosby incident is not included on Niskanen’s record and wouldn’t factor into the severity of supplemental punishment.

The Canadiens vs. Flyers series, which had been largely a defensive battle, got testy in Game 5. Montreal forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi was ejected after receiving a game misconduct for a hit on Philadelphia defenseman Travis Sanheim. Flyers defenseman Philippe Myers also got a high-sticking penalty for contact with Jake Evans‘ face after a scrum in front of the net.

Original article: https://www.espn.com/nhl/story/_/id/29704255/flyers-coach-alain-vigneault-defends-matt-niskanen-hit-hockey-play

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