Torres hit adds sizzle to West Coast playoff series
Sharks forward Raffi Torres looks up after hitting Kings forward Jarret Stoll during Game 1 of their NHL Western Conference semifinal at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, May 14, 2013. (DANNY MOLOSHOK/Reuters)
It's not necessarily the all-California clash a lot of hockey fans were hoping for.
Suddenly, though, the second-round matchup between the Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks has all sorts of sizzle.
Call it the Raffi Factor.
It's up to NHL officials to rule whether Raffi Torres' high hit on Jarret Stoll in Tuesday's 2-0 Kings victory warrants a suspension. What doesn't need to be debated is that it's the type of incident that immediately adds intrigue to a rivalry.
Tune into Thursday's Game 2, you'll see.
While the Sharks shoot to even up the series before the action shifts to San Jose, the Kings could try to send a message that the loss of Stoll -- he's day-to-day with a suspected head injury -- is not acceptable.
"That's not going to be the case here," insisted Kings winger Dustin Penner. "We're emotionally invested enough. We have a lot on the line. We want to defend our Stanley Cup.
"We're not going to go looking for bulletin-board material. We don't need that type of motivation."
Tuesday's series-opener at Staples Center featured 78 body-checks -- 39 by the Kings and 37 by the Sharks -- and no shortage of extra-curricular activities around the blue paint.
The hit that the hockey world can't stop talking about is Torres' collision with Stoll in the final minute of the second period.
The Kings' third-line centre swatted the puck along the ice with his glove and was again standing tall when he was struck from the side by Torres, with the slow-motion replays showing his shoulder connected with Stoll's head.
Since we're talking about the same guy who was suspended 25 games for a head-shot on Chicago Blackhawks star Marian Hossa in the opening round of the playoffs last spring, it's no shock Torres was summoned for an in-person disciplinary hearing Thursday with league officials in New York.
"If anyone is going to make that hit, it's Tico (Torres)," Penner said, later adding "you don't have to make that hit."
The Sharks, on the other hand, didn't see any cause for chaos.
"I've seen Raf hit guys a lot harder than that before," said Sharks centre Joe Pavelski. "As a player, you get hit like that, it feels like every game. I'm surprised (Stoll) was hurt. We support the game (Torres) played. That's the type of energy he brings to our team.
"It's unfortunate he's in the position he's in right now. We have to accept whatever comes and this group has to rally behind it a little bit and move forward. It can't distract us."
It can't distract the Kings, either.
The Sharks scored seven power-play goals in a sweep of the Vancouver Canucks, a warning to their second-round opponent to stay out of the sin-bin.
"We're clearly a team that's not going to lower ourselves to retribution," said Kings coach Darryl Sutter. "That's not going to come into play. That's zero. We talked about not taking retaliation or dumb penalties. That's not going to change."
That doesn't mean that they can't put a bit of hurt into their out-of-town guests.
Heading home to San Jose after back-to-back losses would certainly sting.
"There are ways to do it within the rules, and ways to do it throughout the series within the rules," said Kings captain Dustin Brown. "And that's what we have to do. It's the playoffs, the best retribution is winning games right now."
So much for a reformed Raffi Torres.
The San Jose Sharks winger has been flying under the radar for most of this season, but Wednesday was instead flying to New York, invited to NHL headquarters for an in-person hearing after a controversial hit on Jarret Stoll in Tuesday's 2-0 loss to the Los Angeles Kings.
The sit-down is scheduled for Thursday at noon ET, and the ruling should be announced before the puck drops on Game 2 at Staples Center. Any time the NHL Department of Player Safety requests an in-person hearing, the suspension can span more than five games.
Torres, who was whistled for a charging minor on the hit, won't need directions to the interrogation room, but his teammates aren't sure he deserves to be back in the NHL's bad books.
"It's unfortunate Jarret was hurt, but we just thought it was a clean hit," said Sharks centre Joe Thornton. "When players get hurt, they're probably going to review things and have a talk with him and hopefully he'll be back in the lineup for us (Thursday)."
Do you think Raffi Torres' hit on Jarret Stoll was dirty?
Too hard to tell