New York Islanders star center Mathew Barzal was fined $5,000 by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Tuesday — the maximum amount allowable under the league’s CBA — for his crosscheck of Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Jan Rutta during Monday night’s Game 5 loss at Amalie Arena.
The fine provides a sigh of relief of sorts for the Islanders as their top player will be available for Game 6 on Wednesday night at Nassau Coliseum after speculation arose that he could be suspended.
The incident in question occurred at the end of the second period with the Islanders trailing 6-0 — on their way to an 8-0 loss — when Barzal and Rutta skated together up the boards in front of the benches. While Rutta chirped at the Islanders’ star, Barzal took the bait and delivered a crosscheck up near the face of the Lightning defenseman.
Barzal was hit with a five-minute major penalty and a game misconduct, resulting in an ejection, while Rutta did not return to Game 5.
While punishment from the league was expected, Islanders head coach Barry Trotz said he did not “anticipate” the league suspending Barzal — which would have been a severe decision considering the 24-year-old is not a repeat offender and the incident itself was more of an out-of-control mistake that warranted an ejection rather than something that contained premeditated malice.
The Islanders will need Barzal to be at his best if they want to keep their season alive, trailing 3-2 in the Stanley Cup semifinals heading into Wednesday’s Game 6.
Barzal had been red-hot before Monday night’s debacle, having scored six goals with two assists (eight points) in his previous eight games.
He received little support from Trotz, though, after he was sent to the showers early.
“It wasn’t going well, and he dug it a little deeper for the guys,” Trotz said. “The biggest concern you have as a coach is losing another guy because they’re blocking shots and things like that. So, I am disappointed in his decision there.”