NHL suspends Panthers’ Sam Bennett one game for boarding incident

Sam Bennett of the Florida Panthers skates against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game One of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the BB&T Center on May 16, 2021 in Sunrise, Florida. (BRUCE BENNETT, 2021 Getty Images)

SUNRISE, Fla. – The Florida Panthers will be missing one of their top forwards when the team takes the ice for Game Two on Tuesday.

The NHL’s Department of Player Safety announced that Panthers center Sam Bennett would be suspended for one game following an infraction that occurred during the third period of Sunday’s Game One between Florida and Tampa Bay.

Bennett was assessed a minor penalty for charging after he checked Blake Coleman into the boards from behind.

On the replay, it appears that Bennett has Coleman in his sights before skating from the far side of the blue line, across the Panthers defensive zone, and straight into Coleman’s back.

A video released by the DOPS provided an analysis of the play, and the reasoning behind the subsequent suspension.

“From the moment Bennett hits the face off dot, he sees nothing but Coleman’s numbers,” the DOPS video states. “With ample time to make a better decision, the onus is on Bennett to deliver this hit in a legal fashion, avoid it entirely, or at the very least, minimize its force. Instead, he drives directly through Coleman’s back with speed, driving him forcefully into the boards.”

The play is deemed an illegal boarding penalty, and with the severity of the hit and disregard for Coleman’s safety displayed by Bennett, that’s the reason for the suspension, according to the DOPS.

Before this, Bennett had never been fined or suspended during his 412 game NHL career.

The loss of Bennett likely means that Alex Wennberg will move up to center Florida’s second line with Jonathan Huberdeau and Owen Tippett, assuming Panthers head coach Joel Quennville doesn’t make additional changes ahead of Game Two.

It also leaves an opening for a center to slot into the lineup, and odds are that it will be either Aleksi Heponiemi or Juho Lammikko.

Heponiemi played in each of Florida’s final six games after being recalled from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch. The 22-year-old rookie logged an assist, 12 shots on goal and a +1 rating during those contests.

He also committed no penalties, which could give him the edge over Lammikko, who was called for minor penalties in three of his final four appearances of the season.

Why is this important? Tampa converted on three of its four power play opportunities during Game One, thanks in large part to the return of superstars Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who scored twice while on the man advantage.

Eetu Luostarinen and Lucas Wallmark are also options at center, though neither has played since late April and appeared to have fallen below the aforementioned Hepo and Juho on the depth chart.

Game Two between the Panthers and the Lightning is set for Tuesday night at 8 p.m. at the BB&T Center in Sunrise.

Tampa leads the best-of-seven series 1-0 following Sunday’s 5-4 victory.

About the Author:

David Dwork joined the WPLG Local 10 News team in August 2019. Born and raised in Miami-Dade County, David has covered South Florida sports since 2007.