Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews was suspended for two games by the NHL Department of Player Safety on Monday for delivering a cross-check to the neck of Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Dahlin during Sunday's Heritage Classic.
It's the first fine or suspension Matthews has received in his six-year NHL career. Previously, he had earned only 68 penalty minutes in 390 career games and was a two-time finalist for the NHL's Lady Byng Trophy for sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct.
The incident occurred during the third period of Sunday's outdoor game in Hamilton, Ontario. With the Leafs trailing, Matthews shoved Dahlin in front of the Buffalo net. Dahlin shoved him back onto the cage, sending Matthews to the ice. He got up immediately and delivered a cross-check to Dahlin's neck. Matthews was assessed a minor penalty for cross-checking.
"You're just battling in front of the net," Matthews said after the game. "I felt like I kind of rode up his shoulder and his shoulder pack rolled up a little bit. That's hockey; you're competing out there."
According to the Department of Player Safety, Matthews argued in his hearing that it wasn't a cross-check meant to intentionally "harm or injure his opponent," which the department acknowledged. But it also ruled the cross-check wasn't a "routine motion to gain body position" but rather a forceful blow to an opponent's neck.
The NHL used its two-game suspension of Edmonton Oilers forward Jujhar Khaira in 2018 as precedent for the ruling on Matthews. On that play, Khaira was battling St. Louis Blues defenseman Vince Dunn before delivering a retaliatory cross-check to Dunn's neck. Like Matthews, Khaira hadn't received any supplemental discipline from the NHL prior to that infraction.
Based on his average annual salary, Matthews will forfeit $116,402.50. The money goes to the Players' Emergency Assistance Fund.
ESPN's Kristen Shilton contributed to this report