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NHL Playoffs, Penguins Vs. Lightning: Chris Kunitz, Steve Downie Suspended For One Game Each After Game 3 Hits

The PenguinsChris Kunitz and the Lightning’s Steve Downie have each received one-game suspensions for hits they delivered in Game Three of the Penguins’ NHL playoff series against the Lightning on Monday.

Kunitz’s suspension was for an elbow to the head of Simon Gagne, who has a history of concussions. Gagne, fortunately, was not injured by the hit, but it appears he thought Kunitz deserved to be suspended.

“There’s a rule now in place for a hit to the head,” Gagne said. “No elbows to the head. If you look at the replay, he’s not even close to me and he just extended his elbow. And even the referee came and talked to me right after and asked me if I was okay. He saw what happened. Now it’s up to the league. Nothing I can do about it.”

Here’s the video.

Downie’s suspension, meanwhile, was for a shot to the head of Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy:

These two suspensions are obviously well-deserved. From a hockey perspective, though, this isn’t good for the Penguins – Kunitz had 23 goals and 48 points this season, and was one of their more prolific scorers. They need him on the ice. Both he and Downie will be back for Game 5.

UPDATE: Here's some more context on the suspensions, by Jimmy Rixner:

Downie laid a hit on Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy behind the Pens net in the first period. Lovejoy was behind the net, and absorbed Downie’s whole body when the Tampa player recklessly launched himself at the Pens defenseman. On the ensuing play, Max Talbot would score a goal, negating the two minute minor penalty the referees were prepared to call on Downie once Tampa touched the puck.

Later in the game, Chris Kunitz stuck his elbow out and rammed Tampa’s Simon Gagne in the head. Gagne, it should be noted, has a history of concussion problems, but fortunately was not injured by the action.

Downie has been suspended before, while Kunitz has not, which is probably a big reason why the Penguin received the same punishment than the Lightning player, despite delivering a more dangerous and blatant blow. 

The NHL's often criticized for supplemental discipline and these decisions (coming just two days after Vancouver's Raffi Torres was not suspended) are not likely to be popular with media members and fans.  The standard for plays involving contact to the head has never been more cloudly, and light suspensions for both of these players sends a message that such plays aren't being strictly dealt with, and that no clear standard even exists.

It is unknown who the Pens may use to replace Kunitz, who has been playing first line minutes. The most likely candidates would be Mike Comrie or Eric Tangradi, who have been healthy scratches for the first three playoff games.

Photographs by dizfunk used in background montage under Creative Commons. Thank you.