OTTAWA — The Anaheim Ducks will have to play without Chris Pronger again.
Pronger was suspended Sunday for Game 4 of the Stanley Cup finals for his forearm to the head of Dean McAmmond that knocked out the Senators forward and made his status for Monday night’s pivotal game questionable.
The loss of Pronger is nothing new to the Ducks. They beat Detroit in Game 4 of the Western Conference finals when Pronger was suspended for a high hit to the head of Red Wings forward Tomas Holmstrom. He also missed 16 games during the regular season, his first in Anaheim, due to injuries, but this discipline pattern has become troublesome to the Norris Trophy finalist.
“It was a reaction play. I stepped up to make the hit and got him with my forearm,” said Pronger, who practiced with the team Sunday. “Obviously you’ve got to suffer the consequences of what’s come down. It was a situation we were in last series, and certainly teammates rallied around me and rallied around one another.
“Certainly we’re looking for that again.”
Pronger leveled McAmmond with his elbow Saturday in the Ducks’ 5-3 loss to the Senators. The Ducks are ahead in the series 2-1 and will get Pronger back upon returning home to Anaheim for Game 5 on Wednesday.
They will either be tied or a win away from the first Stanley Cup title in the Ducks’ 13 NHL seasons. Anaheim is 7-7-3 without him in the lineup.
“Nobody can replace a guy like Chris Pronger,” said forward Teemu Selanne, tied with the All-Star defenseman with 14 playoff points. “It’s just another bump on the road. We have to put the all-wheel drive on and keep pushing forward.
“We just want to get better and play better ... and not worry about too much other stuff.”
NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell announced his decision via conference call at Scotiabank Place, a few hours after meeting with Pronger.
“This one took a lot of thought,” Campbell said. “We had to examine the medical. We had to examine the play, the act. It wasn’t an easy one. But there were some simple aspects to it. A blow to the head with the elbow that resulted in a concussion.”
In Campbell’s nine years on the job following an NHL coaching career, he has suspended three players in the finals.
Pronger is the third to be banished twice in one playoff year and the third to sit out a finals game for an act committed in the championship round. The 6-foot-6, 220-pounder has been suspended seven times, including a one-game ban for leaving the bench for an altercation.
This will be the 14th game Pronger has missed because of suspension: two for elbows to the head, four for high-sticking, another four for slashing, two for cross-checking and one for kicking.
“I’ve been in front of them before and now I’m a repeat offender,” the 32-year-old Pronger said at a news conference, dressed in a warmup suit and wearing a baseball cap. “I’m sure that plays into it as it normally does in any situation.
“They did the right thing here. It’s a situation where there was a head blow, and that’s obviously something that the league’s trying to crack down on. I don’t blame them in any way.”
The Ducks lost Game 3 to Detroit, but starting with the contest in which Pronger sat out they ran off five straight wins before Saturday night.
“I’m not unhappy with Chris Pronger,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. “The positives that Chris Pronger brings to the table far outweigh any of the negatives.”
McAmmond, seven inches and 30 pounds smaller than Pronger, was struck as he skated with the puck toward the Ducks net.
He did a spin, fell backward, struck his head on the ice, and slid into the corner in the Anaheim zone at 2:01 of the third period.
“It’s no doubt that he did this on purpose,” Senators general manager John Muckler said. “Unfortunately, we have a player that is injured and has a concussion. And it’s doubtful whether he’ll be able to play on Monday. Hopefully he will. We just have to move forward.”
McAmmond lost consciousness but got up, dazed and woozy, and was helped to the dressing room.
“I think it should have been a suspension because it was a blow to the head,” McAmmond said. “It wasn’t incidental. It’s not like that couldn’t have been avoided.”
His status for Game 4 is undetermined.
“I’m feeling pretty much the same,” he said. “A little bit headachy, not feeling quite right. I’m going to do everything I can, or as little as a I can, to feel good (Monday). I want to play but at this point in time, I’m not sure.”
While Ducks GM Brian Burke was adamant that Pronger didn’t deserve a suspension for his hit against Holmstrom, he accepted the latest punishment to the star defenseman he acquired in an offseason trade with Edmonton.
Burke’s biggest problem Sunday was Campbell’s decision not to suspend hard-hitting Ottawa forward Chris Neil, who also sports a checkered past.
Late in the second period Saturday, Neil took several hard strides before shoving his left elbow into the right side of forward Andy McDonald’s head. McDonald ducked to avoid the full force of the blow, but still went down after being struck.
Just like the two shots that drew suspensions for Pronger, Neil also avoided an on-ice penalty for the hit on McDonald that didn’t cause injury.
“I think there should have been another hearing today,” said Burke, the NHL disciplinarian during the 1990s. “This was a reaction hit on a tough play. Chris Neil’s hit on Andy McDonald was reprehensible.
“Our player skates away. He gets a free pass. Their player gets hurt. Chris Pronger gets a game.”
Ducks executive Bob Murray called McAmmond, who scored the eventual winning goal late in the second period, to see how he was feeling, Burke said.
Campbell said he had “no doubt” McAmmond was knocked out on the ice.
“We think it was totally unintentional. The league thought different,” Carlyle said. “Chris Pronger is a competitive player. Some people will say he’s using his size as an excuse.
“The fact of the matter is his elbows are higher than most people’s elbows. It’s not like he raised his elbow to deliver a blow to the head.”