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NHL suspends 2 in Penguins-Lightning series
The Lightning and Penguins each will be without a key player for Game 4 of their first round playoff series Wednesday night after the NHL suspended Downie and Kunitz one game apiece for hits delivered in separate incidents during the opening period of Pittsburgh 3-2 victory in Game 3.
Instead of debating the fairness of the discipline, both players said they wished they had been more careful. The Penguins lead the series 2-1.
“I’m very disappoined in myself,” Downie said Tuesday. “I felt like I let the team down.”
The league announced Tuesday that Downie was banned for Game 4 for leaving his feet and launching himself at the head of Pittsburgh’s Ben Lovejoy while the defenseman was making a play behind his own net. The hit drew a loud roar from a sellout crowd that was quickly silenced when the Penguins’ Maxime Talbot raced up ice with the puck and scored the game’s first goal.
“I was going in hard on a forecheck. I finished my hit and unfortunately it ended up the way it did . … Momentum carried me through and I ended up off my feet,” Downie said.
A delayed penalty was going to be assessed on the hit, but the call was nullified when Talbot scored his first goal of the series before the Lightning regained possession of the puck.
Although Lovejoy said he was not hit in the head, NHL senior executive vice president vice president Colin Campbell said in announcing the suspension: “Downie left his feet and launched himself at the head of his opponent and he came from a considerable distance, with speed and force, to deliver the check.”
“I knew I was going to get hit. I wanted to make the play. I wanted to get the puck out,” Lovejoy added. “Max certainly made them pay for what happened. … Luckily he got me in the chest. He didn’t launch himself and hit me in the head. Thank you for that.”
Although Gagne implied the blow was intentional, Kunitz insisted it wasn’t.
“I had my hearing this morning. Told my side of it. Obviously it looks bad. I never intentionally meant to hurt him. I’m glad that he’s OK and was able to finish the game,” Kunitz said.
“I was coming through the middle, getting ready to finish a check. … I had my arms in a bad spot, up in the air. He kind of spun and turned back towards me and I went to brush him in the shoulder and I got him in the head,” Kunitz added. “Not very responsible on my side. I’ve definitely got to be careful, but I’m glad he’s OK.”
Gagne declined to speculate on whether the league should have imposed a longer suspension on Kunitz.
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