Pens’ Letang avoids suspension

Pittsburgh Penguins' Kris Letang, during a practice session for the NHL hockey playoffs against the New York Rangers, Monday, April 11, 2016, at their practice facility in Cranberry, Pa. (AP)

NEW YORK (TNS) – Kris Letang avoided a suspension by the NHL on Wednesday after a nasty slash to the face of Viktor Stalberg in Game 3 that reportedly cost him three teeth.

Letang blamed a simultaneous hit and the speed of the play for causing what he believes was an unfortunate accident.

“I went in the corner trying to clear the puck, my stick was up and I got hit at the same time,” Letang said after the Penguins practiced at Madison Square Garden on Wednesday afternoon. “I was going forward, so unfortunately I hit him and he was bleeding but not in a million years would I try to hit somebody in the face like that.”

The Penguins received word Wednesday morning that the NHL Department of Player Safety would not be pursuing a suspension for Letang.

Coach Mike Sullivan said he was never worried he might lose his star defenseman for any length of time.

“No, I wasn’t really concerned because I didn’t think there was intent,” Sullivan said. “For me, the way we saw it, it was a hockey play. He got hit from behind. He was trying to grab a hold of his balance. The way I saw it, it was just a hockey play. It’s unfortunate that his stick got up, but for me there wasn’t any sort of intent.”

Letang said he apologized to Stalberg during the game shortly after the play unfolded in the corner behind the Penguins goal. Letang was not penalized on the play.

“When he was skating by the bench I said sorry,” Letang said. “I didn’t know if I hit him or I hit Dominic (Moore) behind me. I got hit, and I went off balance and I was leaning forward. I just said sorry to the guy.”

The Rangers were not nearly as content with the lack of action by the league.

“Well, we might feel that it seems deliberate,” Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. “The NHL doesn’t see it that way and the referees on the ice at that time didn’t see it that way. So we’ve just got to deal with it and focus on the next game.”

With his team trailing 2-1 in the series, Vigneault said the time is not right for any other distractions.

“Frustration right now is not what we need,” Vigneault said. “Whether it be the league not seeing it the way we do, or the referees, I think we need to put our focus here on coming out with good execution tomorrow, a lot of compete. That’s what we’re going to concentrate on.”