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Blackhawks D-man Connor Murphy’s match penalty could lead to suspension

Murphy was ejected Sunday after a hit to the head on Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak. His match penalty was the first given to a Hawks player in five years.

Connor Murphy was ejected from Sunday’s Blackhawks game after hitting Erik Cernak.
AP Photo/Matt Marton

Update: Murphy won’t be suspended by the NHL and will be available for the Blackhawks game Tuesday against the Stars, coach Jeremy Colliton said Monday.

Hawks defenseman Connor Murphy’s match penalty Sunday will leave him suspended indefinitely until the NHL issues a more specific ruling.

Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak was skating the puck behind the Hawks’ net when Murphy delivered a massive hit from his left. Replays showed Murphy appeared to make primary contact with Cernak’s head, a clear indicator of an illegal hit.

The incident, which occurred with 10:33 left in the second period, sparked a heated scuffle among all 10 skaters on the ice and left Cernak down for several minutes. He looked woozy when he was helped off the ice and didn’t return.

Murphy’s match penalty for an illegal check to the head was upheld upon review and gave the Lightning a five-minute power play.

After the game, Hawks coach Jeremy Colliton disagreed with the conclusion that Murphy primarily hit Cernak’s head.

‘‘It’s not my place to comment on what should happen next,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘[Murphy’s] playing hard; he finished [his check]. I thought he went through his chest. It’s hard to see. I haven’t looked at it in slow [motion]. I guess we’ll see what happens.’’

It was the first match penalty issued to a Hawks player since March 29, 2016, when defenseman Duncan Keith was ejected for swinging his stick at then-Wild forward Charlie Coyle’s head.

Keith received a seven-game suspension for that incident. Murphy’s suspension seems unlikely to be that long, but he might miss a few games, leaving the Hawks down two key defensemen with Calvin de Haan nursing a minor leg injury.

Lightning defenseman Erik Cernak required medical attention after Murphy’s hit Sunday.
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Hawks learn from series

Despite their 6-3 loss Sunday, the Hawks finished their three-game series against the Lightning with three of a possible six points.

The Lightning earned five of six points, but the Hawks proved they can keep pace with the NHL’s best team for significant stretches, if not yet a full game.

‘‘We showed our top level is good enough, for sure,’’ Colliton said. ‘‘We can play with these guys.’’

Added forward Mattias Janmark: ‘‘There are some positives here. If we could have taken 50% of the points beforehand, maybe you would have thought about it. [They’re] a good team, and we’ve proved that we can play with them. But now it’s up to us to respond from this loss.’’

The Lightning outscored the Hawks 12-8 in the series. During even-strength play, shots on goal were 91-72, shot attempts were 161-146 and scoring chances were 90-77 — all in favor of the Lightning.

Nalimov signs AHL deal

Longtime goalie prospect Ivan Nalimov finally has joined the Hawks’ organization, albeit with significantly less fanfare than if he had done so a few years ago.

Nalimov, a sixth-round draft pick in 2014, signed an American Hockey League contract for the rest of the 2021 season Friday. He had spent his entire career playing in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League.

Nalimov was excellent a couple of years ago, posting a save percentage above .930 in 2017-18 and .917 in 2018-19. But his play has declined recently. He went 2-11-0 with an .877 save percentage this season.

Nalimov, who will turn 27 on Friday, will get a limited opportunity to prove himself with Rockford, which has struggled with goaltending but has only 19 games left in its shortened season.