After 59 minutes and three seconds of hockey between the Montreal Canadiens and the Winnipeg Jets, the story was all positive for Montreal. With an empty net goal from Jake Evans—his first career in the playoffs—to make it 5-3, the Canadiens had sealed their Game 1 victory and, on top of their gutwrenching comeback against Toronto in the first round, they’d now won four games in a row for the first time since January of 2019.
But in the split-second after Evans wrapped around the net to score with no goalie, he was absolutely demolished by the Jets’ leader in points, Mark Scheifele. Scheifele was skating back into zone with nothing on his mind but desperation, trying to do anything he could to prevent that empty netter and keep Winnipeg alive. He failed, and when he collided high with Evans and sent him crashing to the ice, he completely redefined the mood and the trajectory of the series.
Evans would stay down for several minutes while being attended to by the medical staff and eventually left on a stretcher. John Shannon, formerly of the NHL Network and Sportsnet, reported that Evans was “doing fine. Alert, but shaken.” But there’s been no official word on his condition, and Evans’s history of head injuries makes the situation all the more serious. (It’s worth noting too that, in the midst of spiking tensions, Jets winger Nikolaj Ehlers turned his back on the scrum to protect Evans’s body.)
Scheifele was sent off from the game with five minutes for charging and 10 for misconduct, but that by no means closes the book on this incident. Talk of the hit dominated the postgame press conferences, and though Scheifele has no history of suspensions, and I won’t try to predict the moves of NHL Player Safety, the wind sure seems to be blowing in the direction of some serious discipline. If Scheifele misses time, that’ll be a huge self-inflicted blow for Winnipeg, who will have to try and fight back from down 1-0 without their best skater. But if Scheifele does step back onto the ice against Montreal … well, Habs defenseman Joel Edmundson summed it up pretty bluntly.
“It was a dirty hit. But the league’s going to take care of it. If he gets back in the series, we’re going to make his life miserable,” Edmundson said.
This all sucks for so many reasons, not least of which that the Habs played a frickin’ great game on Wednesday, getting out to an early lead and then letting Carey Price in net carry them across the finish line. There was plenty to be proud of, as skaters both old (Corey Perry) and young (Jesperi Kotkaniemi) made stellar plays to neutralize the presence of Jets goalie Connor Hellebuyck. I thought this goal from 21-year-old potential cornerstone Nick Suzuki was especially awesome, as he demonstrated outstanding patience on the 2-on-1 to force Hellebuyck into a compromising position.
Game 2 looked to be all about Montreal trying to feed the flames of their hot streak. It’ll still be that, of course, but Scheifele’s hit has also transformed it into an opportunity for revenge. Even if the suspension happens as Montreal wants it to, there will still be a score to settle between these two teams. And that need for whatever passes for justice in hockey threatens to overshadow the scoreboard once again on Friday night.