James Neal wrapped up two separate disciplinary hearings with NHL vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan before even stepping on the ice on Tuesday morning for the Penguins’ practice in Pittsburgh.
It took Shanahan nearly 12 full hours to make a decision as to Neal’s fate.
Turns out, the Penguins will be missing a 40-goal scorer in Neal when the take the ice on Wednesday night, already tilting the ice for an attempt to save their season in Game 4 at the Wells Fargo Center.
Neal received a one-game suspension from Shanahan for two separate attacks on Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier in the third period with the game already well out-of-hand.
Arron Asham, Neal’s teammate and now fellow inmate, will miss the remainder of the series – no matter how long it continues – thanks to a four-game ban for his cross-check on Brayden Schenn in the first period of Sunday’s Game 3 slugfest.
Neal’s hits – in which he left the ice both times to make contact with Giroux and Couturier – were just 42 seconds apart on the same shift.
“While we are willing to accept Neal’s assertion that on (Couturier) play he jumped to brace himself for an unintended collision … he once again launches prior to making contact with Giroux,” Shanahan said in an explanation video released by the league. “It is also important to note that Neal was fined once and also received two warning calls from the Department of Player Safety earlier this season, in addition to having been suspended three years ago for a check from behind.”
Asham required a more serious, in-person meeting with Shanahan for his cross-check to Brayden Schenn’s head in the first period. His penalty was expected.
“Reacting to his teammate being hit, Asham skates directly at Schenn toward the middle of the ice, and intentionally cross-checks him high and with force,” Shanahan explained. “When Schenn falls to the ice, Asham then punches the defenseless player in the back of the head.
“Despite how it appears in certain camera angles, Asham’s stick never makes contact with Schenn’s face. However, the violent, vengeful nature of the high cross-check is not acceptable.
“We’ve taken into consideration that Schenn escaped physical injury. We’ve also taken into consideration that Asham has never been fined or suspended in his 13-year NHL career.”
Pittsburgh will already be without forward Craig Adams for Game 4. Adams received an automatic suspension, as per league rules, for his instigator penalty within the final five minutes of regulation on Sunday.
Roxborough native Eric Tangradi, 23, is expected to replace Adams in the lineup, which would be his second career NHL playoff game. Joe Vitale, the player who tried to decapitate Danny Briere with a clean hit on April 1, and Dustin Jeffrey could replace Asham and Neal.
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