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What Kevin Fiala’s three-game suspension will mean for the Wild’s series against Avalanche

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Minnesota Wild
Jan 28, 2021; Saint Paul, Minnesota, USA; Minnesota Wild left wing Kevin Fiala (22) commits a boarding penalty against Los Angeles Kings defenseman Matt Roy (3) in the second period. Fiala was ejected from the game at Xcel Energy Center. Mandatory Credit: David Berding-USA TODAY Sports

The Wild will be without one of their top wingers for all but one game of a four-game series against the Colorado Avalanche. Kevin Fiala, who had 23 goals and a team-leading 54 points last season, was suspended for three games by the NHL department of player safety on Friday for a dangerous hit he put on Los Angeles defenseman Matt Roy on Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center.

Roy was being pursued by Fiala as he chased the puck in the corner to the right of Kings goalie Jonathan Quick. Fiala did not slow as Roy approached the boards and instead pushed him from behind. Roy was injured on the play and Fiala was assessed a five-minute boarding penalty and game misconduct. This is the first time Fiala has been fined or suspended in six-plus NHL seasons.

Fiala was off to a bit of a slow start but had played well in the past two games and scored his third goal of the season on Thursday. He and rookie winger Kirill Kaprizov are the Wild’s two most talented scorers and Fiala will be missed going against the high-powered Avalanche.

In the decision to suspend Fiala for three games, the department of player safety said Fiala’s shove of Roy, “caused a violent collision with the boards and an injury.”

The explanation went on to state that “it is important to note that Fiala is entirely in control of how this play develops. From the time the puck is dumped in, he sees nothing but Roy’s numbers. This is not a case of a player turning his back immediately prior to contact in a way that turns a legal body check into an illegal one.”

In his hearing with the NHL, Fiala said he did not intend to cause Roy’s impact with the boards. However, in the decision, it’s noted that the “contact was delivered at high speed and at a dangerous distance from boards.” Fiala was responsible for creating a new angle of approach to deliver the hit legally, avoid it entirely or minimize the contact with Roy, the department of player safety said.

“Instead, having seen nothing but Roy’s numbers for some time, Fiala delivers a direct push in the back that causes Roy to crash dangerously into the boards.”

Judd’s Take: This hit looked bad from the press box and it looks worse watching the replay. Is Fiala a dirty player? Absolutely not. I thought he might get a game or two but clearly the department of player safety felt it had to send a message. It was fortunate that Roy was able to get up after the hit.

Of course, the suspension comes at a terrible time. The Wild opened the season by winning five of eight games against the Kings, Ducks and Sharks — none of the three was even good enough to make the qualifying round of the NHL’s return to play last summer — and now will face a Stanley Cup favorite in Colorado. The series will open with games Saturday and Sunday at Xcel Energy Center before shifting to Colorado on Tuesday and Thursday.

It will be interesting to see what coach Dean Evason does with his line combinations with Fiala out. Evason shuffled things up to start Thursday’s game with Kaprizov playing on the right wing with Joel Eriksson Ek at center and Marcus Johansson on the left wing. Fiala remained with Zach Parise and center Nick Bjugstad.

The guess is that Kaprizov will play the right wing with Parise and Bjugstad, and Eriksson Ek, Jordan Greenway and Marcus Foligno will be reunited (as they were in the third period on Thursday) to try to slow down the Avs’ top line, which is centered by superstar Nathan MacKinnon.