Scheifele suspended four games for hit on Montreal Canadiens' Jake Evans

Winnipeg Jets forward Mark Scheifele has been suspended four games for his crushing hit on Jake Evans of the Montreal Canadiens in their playoff series opener on Wednesday night.

The NHL's Department of Player Safety made the announcement Thursday after a hearing with the Jets' scoring leader in the aftermath of Montreal's 5-3 win.

Winnipeg’s Mark Scheifele has been suspended for four games for Charging Montreal’s Jake Evans. https://t.co/MhMHK55lmC

— NHL Player Safety (@NHLPlayerSafety) June 4, 2021

Scheifele was handed a charging major and a game misconduct on the play, which came with 57 seconds to go in regulation and led to Evans being taken off the ice on a stretcher, although he was conscious and moving his arms. 

The ruling means Scheifele won't be eligible to return until Game 6, if necessary, in the best-of-seven series.

Evans suffered a concussion and will be out of action indefinitely, interim head coach Dominique Ducharme confirmed Thursday.

The coach added Evans is "doing better" after spending the night at the team's hotel in Winnipeg for observation.

As a result, team doctors determined he would not need to be hospitalized.

Evans lay on the ice after taking a hard hit from Scheifele as he scored into an empty net with 56.9 seconds left to the game.

The Jets forward was handed a major penalty for assault and game misconduct for his action.

In a post-game press conference, Ducharme said, "It was an unnecessary hit. (...) It was vicious and the league will deal with it."

Dominique Ducharme confirms that Jake Evans is doing better, and was not hospitalized following an evaluation by team doctors. He will be out for an undetermined period of time.

— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) June 3, 2021

The loss of Scheifele is big for Winnipeg. He was the club's scoring leader with 63 points (21 goals, 42 assists) in 56 regular-season games with just 12 penalty minutes.

The 28-year-old native of Kitchener, Ont., has two goals and three assists in five playoff games so far this year. He's currently tied with Kyle Connor, Blake Wheeler and Josh Morrissey for the team scoring lead.

Montreal defenceman Jeff Petry said Scheifele's absence won't force the Canadiens to play differently.

"We're going to play them the same way as if he was in the lineup," he said. "Pressure them hard, take away their time.

"We're going to approach the game the same way and focus on what we need to do."

Byron and Petry say the best redemption Montreal can gain on Winnipeg is to win the series, not exact revenge upon individual Jets players.

"The best way for us to respond is to win hockey games so Jake can come back," Byron said. "He's been playing great for us.

"Again (he) made a great effort on the goal to chase it down and put it the net and finish the game for us. We need to win hockey games so he can come back and keep playing well for us."

Added Petry: "The best way to get back at them for that is to win the series. Our focus is to make sure we're playing the right way . . . and make them pay that way."

Byron, too, has been on the receiving end NHL justice. He received a three-game suspension in January 2019 for a hit on Florida defenceman MacKenzie Weegar during a game.

"My own feelings were obviously regret," he said. "I don't think you ever consciously go in to hit a guy to hurt someone but at the same time you have to own up to your actions.

"You're responsible, it doesn't matter if a guy is in a vulnerable position or not. At the end of the day you control your actions, you control what you do, how you finish your checks . . . you have to own up what you do and be responsible and take accountability for it."

Scheifele has earned the reputation of being an offensive player (507 points in 575 regular-season games). His career-high for penalty minutes is 48, registered in 71 regular-season games with Winnipeg in 2015-16.

"I know he's going down there to finish a check," Byron said. "I think his reaction immediately was knowing that he made a mistake.

"It's a bad hit . . . regardless of how he feels (Thursday) you can't hit guys like that "

But Winnipeg defenceman Neal Pionk said often players have a split-second to react on the ice.

"It's an intense game, it's a fast game and I don't think anyone on our team is targeting guys or certainly not trying to hurt guys," he said. "It's tough but you do everything you can to keep your elbows down and keep hour shoulder low and make sure you don't make contact with his head."

Jets forward Andrew Copp said he and his teammates are glad Evans's injuries weren't more serious. But he's unconcerned about potential retribution from the Canadiens.

"We have to find a way to win the next game," he said. "I think that's all we're worried about right now."

This is not the first time Evans has suffered a severe blow to the head.

He had to undergo a concussion-related procedure following a hard check with Quebec defenceman Jonathan Aspirot in September 2018 during a rookie tournament game between the Canadiens and Ottawa Senators.

Evans fell heavily on the ice and lay there for several minutes before leaving on a stretcher. No penalty was called during that game.

The first game of the first-round series between the Habs and the Toronto Maple Leafs saw a similar incident, when Corey Perry accidentally hit John Tavares in the head in the first period.

The incident culminated in a furious fight between Perry and Leafs forward Nick Foligno in retaliation for the veteran's action.

The second game of the series between the Canadiens and Jets will take place Friday night at the Bell MTS Centre in Winnipeg.

Just a handful of players skated Thursday, while the rest of the team practiced off the ice.

-- This report by The Canadian Press was first published in French on June 3, 2021. 

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