2011 NHL Playoffs: NHL Has Chance To Send Message After Two Head Shots in Tampa

Matthew CalamiaCorrespondent IApril 18, 2011

Canuck's Raffi Torres Crushes Black Hawks defenseman Brent Seabrook
Canuck's Raffi Torres Crushes Black Hawks defenseman Brent SeabrookJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Twenty-four hours after the NHL failed to discipline Vancouver's Raffi Torres for a hit on Chicago's Brent Seabrook, they were given not one, but two golden opportunities Monday night to show the world that they are serious about cracking down on head shots.

In Game 3 between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins, both teams were guilty of dangerous hits on the opponents' heads, the type of hits the NHL is trying to rid the game of.

Pittsburgh's Kris Kunitz delivered a brainless and unprovoked elbow to the back of Simon Gagne's head in the first period, resulting in a two-minute penalty. The elbow was by no means vicious, but any hit to the head can be career-ending, especially for a player like Gagne, who has had a history of injury.

Later in the game, Tampa Bay's Steve Downie left his skates to lay out Pittsburgh's Ben Lovejoy behind the net, very reminiscent of his hit several years ago against Dean McAmond as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. Amazingly, he was not penalized.

The Kunitz situation is interesting just because of the Penguins' history this season with such hits. They lost star Sidney Crosby in January to a concussion that has prevented him returning to the team this season. Their teammate, Matt Cooke, has been the center of attention for several years now for his often-times suspendable hits, including an elbow delivered to New York Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh.

Kunitz should be given at least a game suspension. Again, it wasn't vicious, but he clearly went for Gagne's head with an elbow. Plays like that have no place in hockey.

Downie is a repeat offender. His hit on McAmond resulted in a 20-game suspension. The hits are very similar, and he should be given another hefty suspension. The puck was in the area of the hit, but did not warrant the collision Downie provided. Lovejoy's head was down, and yes, it is his responsibility to keep it up, but it is also Downie's responsibility to not try and end a fellow player's career.

The NHL has been given two golden opportunities to really put their foot down and try and rid the game of these bone-headed hits. If they let both of these go, it really drives home that the NHL higher-ups are just blowing smoke.

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