Huge hip check sends Stephen Gionta into Florida Panthers bench

New Jersey Devils forward Stephen Gionta was having trouble finding friends on and off the ice last night.

The Florida Panthers saw their playoff hopes diminish long ago and the Devils may find themselves on the outside looking in at the end of the season as well. But if the hit on Stephen Gionta last night is any indication, the Panthers are content to make the road to the postseason as difficult as they can to any team they encounter before the end of the season.

Mid-way through the third period, Panthers defenseman Dmitry Kulikov set his sights on a streaking Gionta, who was making his way into the offensive zone right in front of the Panthers’ bench. Kulikov laid a blistering hip check into Gionta, sending him flying over the boards and into Florida’s bench. The fun didn’t end there for the Panthers. As Gionta was climbing over the boards to make his way back onto the ice, Florida forward TJ Brennan gave Gionta a hard shove right back onto the playing surface. Gionta immediately got up and started having words with the Panthers bench, including defenseman Alex Petrovich. The referee stepped in before anything more could come of the incident and Gionta made his way over to rejoin his team.

Check out video of the incident below.

New Jersey ended up taking a 6-2 victory over the Panthers, putting them 10th in the Eastern Conference with 44 points – six points back from the 8th place New York Rangers. The Devils have four games remaining on the season, including two very important contests against the Rangers. They also play Pittsburgh and Montreal, who are first and second overall in the East respectively.

The Devils have won two in a row, but are 2-6-2 in their last 10. Meanwhile, the Rangers are 7-2-1 over their last 10. A Rangers victory over the Devils today could virtually eliminate any postseason hopes for the Devils.

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