ANAHEIM, Calif. - After looking practically defenseless in their lopsided loss to Detroit, the Anaheim Ducks absorbed another blow when Chris Pronger was suspended yesterday for one game.
Pronger, Anaheim's best player during the playoffs, will miss tonight's Game 4 of the Western Conference finals.
The NHL disciplined the Ducks' defenseman, a former Norris Trophy winner and a finalist for the award this year, for delivering a blow to the head of Tomas Holmstrom in the Red Wings' 5-0 victory Tuesday night that gave them a 2-1 lead in the series.
Pronger leads the Ducks with 12 points this postseason, including three goals.
Anaheim general manager Brian Burke, while expressing his respect for the NHL's process and league disciplinarian Colin Campbell, said the Ducks completely disagree with Campbell's decision.
"If you watch some of the other views, it looks like a dangerous, high hit. If you look at the end zone view, I think it shows best that Chris Pronger went to hit Tomas Holmstrom at a 45-degree angle from the boards," Burke said.
"At no point is Chris delivering a hit toward the boards, a dangerous hit. He's coming in to finish a check at a 45-degree angle. Rob Niedermayer steps into the player [Holmstrom], pins him, you get a high finish."
Holmstrom had two goals and an assist in the Red Wings' Game 3 romp, but he had to leave the game midway through the second period to get 13 stitches to close two cuts on his forehead after Pronger and Niedermayer slammed into him almost simultaneously.
Niedermayer drew a major penalty for boarding and was ejected, but Pronger was not assessed a penalty on the play.
The NHL reviewed the play yesterday, with Pronger speaking to the league on the phone, and the suspension was quickly levied.
Holmstrom returned to begin the third period and assisted on the Red Wings' final goal.
Asked if he thought Pronger's suspension was just, Holmstrom said after practice yesterday: "One game, it's the NHL's decision. If I'd gotten a concussion or maybe couldn't play anymore in the series, maybe it would be more.
"But I came back and that was probably fortunate for him."
With clear tape covering the stitches above his right eye and on his left forehead just below the hairline, Holmstrom added, "You've got to take those head shots away from the game, and one game [suspension] doesn't mean much. But hopefully it doesn't repeat."
Detroit coach Mike Babcock, the Ducks' coach when they made the 2003 Stanley Cup finals, said Holmstrom's attitude is what the Red Wings are all about.
"You can cross-check him, you can smack him, you can do whatever you want. He's going to keep coming," Babcock said. "We plan on doing the same thing."
Burke said he appreciated the way Babcock handled the situation after Holmstrom was hurt, not dramatizing it and sending him back into the game.
The Ducks' GM mentioned some of the factors involved in Pronger's hit, including the fact that the defenseman is 6-foot-6 and Holmstrom is 6-1.
"I think if Rob Niedermayer doesn't come into this play, I'm not here [talking about it], there's no hearing, there's no issue," Burke said.
Pronger didn't speak with reporters.
"He's sour about it," Burke said. "That's why he's not talking to you guys. The league doesn't like us swearing. I don't want Chris to talk to anyone today."
Before the suspension was announced, Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle was asked about the possibility of not having Pronger.
"Obviously he's a big part of our hockey club. But, again, we've had stretches through the season where he wasn't on our blue line," Carlyle said. "We'll move other people in, make some adjustments with our personnel. Other people will have to share those minutes."
Sabres 3, Senators 2
OTTAWA - Ryan Miller and Buffalo withstood a late Senators rally and stayed alive in the Eastern Conference finals.
Miller was remarkable in stopping 15 shots in the third period, and Chris Drury and Derek Roy each had a goal and an assist in a win over Ottawa in Game 4.
The Sabres nearly squandered a three-goal lead but staved off elimination, cutting the Senators' best-of-seven series lead to 3-1 and making Game 5 necessary in Buffalo on Saturday.
Miller stopped 31 shots - the same number he stopped in a 1-0 loss Monday.
Ottawa enjoyed back-to-back power plays in the third period but failed to get a puck past Miller, despite getting 10 shots on net during a 4:30 stretch. Miller made a key save when he waved his glove and batted down Joe Corvo's snap shot from the slot.
Ottawa defenseman Wade Redden also had a shot from the slot sail just wide of an open left side.
Peter Schaefer and Dean McAmmond scored for the Senators, who had a six-game winning streak snapped and lost for only the second time in seven home games.
Maxim Afinogenov also scored for Buffalo, the Presidents' Trophy winner in the regular season.