The first two games of the Tampa Bay Lightning versus the New Jersey Devils playoff series in Round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs were some of the cleanest games played across the league.

While other teams were playing gritty, playoff style hockey, the Lightning and the Devils were using their speed and skill, and for the most part, keeping the physical play to a minimum. That all changed in the third and fourth games of the series when somehow, two Tampa Bay superstars dodged suspensions.

Apr 16, 2018; Newark, NJ, USA; The Tampa Bay Lightning and the New Jersey Devils fight during the third period of game three of the first round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs at Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Things got Feisty

It was during Game 3, at the 13:56 mark of the third period, when Tampa defenseman Mikhail Sergachev “accidentally” hit Devils forward, Blake Coleman, in the head. This resulted in a penalty for an illegal check to the head and allowed the Devils to build some much-needed momentum to guide them to a 5-2 victory. The game was much closer than the score indicated, as there were two empty-net goals by the Devils within the final minute.

While all hits to the head are closely looked at in today’s sports world, Blake Coleman did not miss any ice time when the penalty was called. The play was somewhat of a blind play as Sergachev turned into Coleman rather than targeted him, no suspension warranted. However, with about 1:33 left in the game there was a play some consider the dirtiest move in hockey.

Suspendable Offenses

After the Sergachev incident, the bad blood finally came to a head between these two teams. Lightning defenseman, Victor Hedman, speared Devils forward, Nico Hischier, right in the family jewels. This play is considered by some to be one of the dirtiest plays in all of hockey. In fact, we have seen players get suspended for spearing attempts that used a lot less force while targeting a much less sensitive part of the human body.

Calgary Flames forward, Mathew Tkachuk, was suspended for what is listed as unsportsmanlike conduct for his role during a Detroit versus Calgary brawl. The conduct was a spear to the back of the leg of Luke Witkowski, and it was more of a tap than an actual spear. Nevertheless, it resulted in a one-game suspension. Victor Hedman, on the other hand, went all out on Nico Hischier’s reproductive organs and not a single thing happened.

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After the Devils picked up their first win of the series, it was very clear that defenseman, Sami Vatanen, was one of the best players the Devils had on the ice. This fact was clearly in the Lightning’s heads as yet another suspendable offense took place in Game 4 of this series.

With the events of Game 3 still clearly on the minds of both squads, Game 4 had a much different feel to it. There were more squabbles in front of the nets and in the corners, more jarring back and forth between players, and another event that could keep the Devils best defenseman out for the remainder of the series. At the 3:57 mark of the first period, the Lightning attempted to enter the Devils' zone. Vatanen managed to get a stick on the puck Tampa Bay forward, Nikita Kucherov, who proceeded to leave his feet and target Vatanen’s head.

As I stated previously, hits to the head have been a major issue in all of the sports and there have been countless suspensions with regards to targeting the head. After missing a game, and the Devils getting eliminated, it was announced that Vatanen did sustain a concussion that caused him to miss the elimination game. While the Devil’s backs were already against the wall, losing their best defenseman did them no favors.

Apr 7, 2018; Raleigh, NC, USA; Tampa Bay Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov (86) skates with the puck against the Carolina Hurricanes at PNC Arena. The Carolina Hurricanes defeated the Tampa Bay Lightning 3-2. Mandatory Credit: James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

Clearly, the Tampa Bay superstars got away with a couple of questionable calls that should have resulted in a suspension. It will be interesting to see if the players get the same leeway when they play the big market teams in either Boston or Toronto.