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Johnston: What I’m hearing about Barkov’s readiness for Game 3, and why Draisaitl isn’t suspended

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EDMONTON — All signs point to Aleksander Barkov being healthy enough to return for Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final, with all the stars of that star-studded series still in play as the venue moves to Rogers Place.

The Florida Panthers captain missed the final 9:28 of Monday’s game after taking a hard hit from Leon Draisaitl along the boards. Barkov initially tried to get up off the ice, before falling again, which raised alarm bells about his potential availability moving forward with the Panthers just two wins away from winning their first Stanley Cup championship.

However, Barkov avoided breaking his jaw while playing, according to a league source, and skated without any additional facial protection at the Panthers’ practice facility Wednesday morning before the team eventually traveled north to Edmonton.

Florida coach Paul Morris was noticeably more cheerful when talking to reporters about Barkov than he was after his team’s 4-1 win in Game 2.

“It’s the driver of my mood, isn’t it?” Morris said. “Yes, I’ve been through that—maybe fear is the right word. No one wants to lose their leader. And you don’t know if you’ve lost them for a while.”

“Then you find out that maybe you didn’t have it, you’re in a much better mood.”

There was at least the possibility that Edmonton could have lost Draisaitl to suspension for his role in the incident, although the NHL’s Department of Player Safety ultimately ruled that he did not rise to that level.

According to sources familiar with the decision-making process, GSA did not like Draisaitl’s right forearm being visible while handing the check or leaving his feet in the process. But they also did not view it as a “chicken wing” type strike in which the player fully extends his arm and elbow with the clear intention of grabbing the opponent’s head.

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It is in Draisaitl’s favor that he has no prior suspension history and also that this is the Stanley Cup Final.

The matches are worth a lot more now than when the verdict is made in November or even in the first round. During the playoffs, in particular, the health of a player on the wrong end of a questionable incident is also taken into account because there is obviously more incentive to take liberties against an opponent over the course of a best-of-seven regular season.

Reviewing the Draisaitl-Barkov incident from every available angle, DoPS members also felt that there were more violent hits delivered in the series that received far less attention from the media or fans because they did not involve two of the best players in the series.

Historically, suspensions during the Stanley Cup Final are extremely rare.

When Vancouver Canucks defenseman Aaron Roma was suspended for the final four games of the 2011 series against the Boston Bruins for a late hit on Nathan Horton, a large part of the rationale for that decision was that it was immediately clear that Horton would not be eligible to return either, according to a source. In the league.

The Panthers won’t make a final decision on Barkov’s official status for Game 3 until after Thursday’s morning skate at Rogers Place. But it’s clear they expect him to play.

“Obviously it’s good that he’s feeling better, and yeah, (I’m) just looking forward to seeing him play in the next game,” teammate Eto Lustarianen said.

While the temperature in the series rose dramatically from Game 1 to Game 2, the Panthers focused on trying to hide their emotions as they entered a hostile environment with a championship in hand.

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“I think we just have to stay out of it,” Lustarianen said. “Just do what we have and then let them try to do stupid things like that. Yeah, just be disciplined.”

Meanwhile, the Oilers are trying to harness the energy of their caucus to get back into the series.

Edmonton coach Kris Knoblauch also told reporters on Wednesday that he hopes to use the final line change to create more favorable matchups than in games at Amerantbank Arena — which will presumably include taking some of his best players away from Barkov and the Panthers’ defenders. Gustav Forsling.

Inside the Oilers’ locker room, they didn’t seem to expect the level of physicality to drop.

“Overall, I think it’s about where I expected it to be,” defenseman Mattias Ekholm said. “Nothing crazy. Obviously we know this is something they thrive at and love doing. A lot of that physicality. At the same time, I feel like every time they cross the goal line, the referees step in and give a penalty.

“And that’s what we expect, too.”

(Top photo by Alexander Barkov: Jim Rasool/USA Today)

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