Sharks center Joe Thornton has been suspended for Game 4 of San Jose's Stanley Cup playoff first-round series against the Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL announced Monday.
The 39-year-old veteran was called for an illegal check to the head after he hit Golden Knights forward Tomas Nosek with just over three minutes remaining in the second period Sunday night.
"It's important to note that the head is clearly the main point of contact on this hit, and that the head contact is avoidable," the NHL's department of player safety said in a video announcing Thornton's suspension. "While Nosek is low, having just made a play on the puck, he does not materially change the position of his head -- or body -- just prior to contact in a way that contributes to the head being the main point of contact on this hit.
"If Thornton does choose to deliver this check, he must take an angle of approach that goes through Nosek's shoulder and core, rather than picking his head and making it the main point of contact."
Thornton said after the game that the hit to the head wasn't on purpose, as he defended his actions.
"I honestly thought I barely touched him," Thornton told reporters in Las Vegas. "He came right back. It was just one of those plays. It is what it is. I think my son hits me like that six times a day. It was just a weird position [Nosek] put himself in, that's all."
This is the second time Thornton has been suspended in his NHL career. He was suspended two games during the 2010-11 season for a hit to the head on St. Louis Blues forward David Perron, and the NHL department of player safety cited that suspension in its announcement Monday.
Golden Knights winger Ryan Reeves, who found himself in quite the tussle with Sharks winger Evander Kane during the game, felt much different about the hit than Thornton did. Reeves went as far as calling Thornton "gutless" to reporters Monday.
Reaves on Thornton's hit-
"It was gutless. It was behind the play & to the head.
I got a buddy with a grandpa who's going through the same thing. Can't really see very well cuz he's getting old. Get some glasses. If he gets suspended it'll be hard for him to see up top."— Jesse Granger (@JesseGranger_) April 15, 2019
[RELATED: How the Kane-Reeves beef has escalated]
The Sharks are down 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. They'll look to even it up Tuesday night in Game 4 in Las Vegas.