Alain Vigneault hasn't disclosed strategy throughout the Flyers' best-of-seven first-round series against the Canadiens.
After all, it's the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
He certainly wasn't going to jump the gun and talk about life without Matt Niskanen ahead of Game 6. Instead, Vigneault stated his case about the play under review. Niskanen has a hearing Thursday with the NHL Department of Player Safety after crosschecking Canadiens forward Brendan Gallagher during the third period of the Flyers' 5-3 loss Wednesday in Game 5.
The 33-year-old Niskanen has been a critical piece to the Flyers' turnaround in 2019-20. The steady, all-situation blueliner with a Stanley Cup ring makes up the Flyers' first defensive pair alongside Ivan Provorov. With the Flyers holding a 3-2 series lead, losing Niskanen to a suspension would be a considerable loss, one that shouldn't be underestimated even if Niskanen hasn't played his best in the series.
Gallagher, who played with a noticeable edge in the potential elimination game and scored his first goal of the playoffs, was left bloodied after Niskanen's crosscheck. After being bumped off the puck by what appeared to be a crosscheck in the back from Gallagher, Niskanen made his way back into the play, crosschecking the Montreal winger near his shoulder and face. The 5-foot-9 Gallagher was turning away from the boards as Niskanen pushed downward with his stick.
After receiving medical evaluation and treatment on the bench, Gallagher came back into the game. According to a report by The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun, Gallagher was set to have a CT scan on his jaw Thursday afternoon.
The Canadiens' official Twitter account tweeted out a video of the play at 9:34 a.m. ET Thursday. A little persuasion, perhaps?
When asked how the Flyers might adjust if they don't have Niskanen, Vigneault did not get into adjustments.
"Well, first of all, let’s see what happens with this afternoon there," Vigneault said Thursday in a video interview. "My estimation, though, Gallagher got up and seemed fine, he was talking to the referees. The whole time that he was on the bench, he was talking to our players for the rest of the game. Gallagher’s a very competitive player, but I don’t think it’s Nisky’s fault that he might not be as tall as some of the other guys, but he competes as big, if not bigger than anybody else. Just seemed like a hockey play that unfortunately cut him a little bit."
Game 5 was extremely physical and tensions ran high between the clubs. In the second period, Travis Sanheim was bleeding from his face after Jesperi Kotkaniemi hit him high and into the boards. The Canadiens' center received a five-minute major penalty for boarding as well as a game misconduct. In the final minute of the third period after the Canadiens' empty-net goal, Sean Couturier delivered a solid shot to Artturi Lehkonen as the two crossed paths, eliciting a melee at the blue line.
"There’s no doubt that there’s no love between both teams, both teams want to win, very competitive," Vigneault said. "The hit on Travis, it was a blow upwards towards the head that cut him. The hit that Coots [had] at the end of the game; sometimes boys will be boys. But Nisky’s hit, his angle doesn’t change — just a hockey play in my estimation."
Understandably, the Canadiens were not happy with the play.
“It looks like a crosscheck right to the face, pretty much, is how I saw it,” Ben Chiarot said, via Sportsnet's Eric Engels. “An unsuspecting guy; Gally’s in the corner battling for the puck, turns around and gets a mouthful of Niskanen’s stick. That’s how I saw it.”
Niskanen, who had a slash reviewed during February and was fined, is second on the Flyers with 22:05 minutes per game in the playoffs. The Flyers will hope they don't lose their leader on the blue line for Game 6 or a possible Game 7, if necessary.
"I saw it from the bench, so my view was not great," Joel Farabee said about the play in a video interview Thursday. "In my opinion, it’s playoff hockey, guys are going at it out there, we’re fighting for every inch. I didn’t think it was to the point where he needs a suspension or anything. Like I said, it’s playoff hockey, I think we can move on from it."