2011 NHL Playoffs: Do Chris Kunitz and Steve Downie Both Deserve Suspensions?

Mike ShannonFeatured ColumnistApril 19, 2011

Ah, the NHL playoffs.

The hatred is starting to come to the forefront in the Penguins-Lightning series after the Pens survived Game 3 in Tampa with a 3-2 win. Marc-Andre Fleury again stood tall and a timely goal from Tyler Kennedy offset a Marty St. Louis power play goal which tied it at two.

Of course, that was not the only story last night as Steve Downie and Chris Kunitz both found themselves in hot water following the game.

Downie was the first one to act in the game, leaving his feet and launching himself into the head of Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who was passing the puck from behind his net. Downie absolutely crushed Lovejoy on the play, sending him sprawling the to the ice but, thankfully, uninjured.

The only problem for Downie was that Max Talbot grabbed the puck while Downie was headhunting and scored a goal to make it 1-0. It was certainly not the first stupid thing Downie has done in his career and it won't be the last.

On the Penguins side of things, Chris Kunitz introduced Simon Gagne's face to his elbow during the second period, clearly extending his arm and knocking the oft-concussed Gagne silly. It was definitely a dirty play that was supposed to be payback for the Lovejoy hit. Kunitz was completely 100 percent in the wrong there and really could have injured Gagne but, like Lovejoy, he escaped injury.

However, whether or not either player was injured on the hits is irrelevant. Both of these guys have to be sat down for at least a game by the NHL brass.

Steve Downie clearly left his feet and drove his shoulder into Lovejoy's head. It was a blindside hit as Lovejoy was coming around the net, the exact hit that Downie has been known for in his career.

Rule 48 clearly states: "A lateral or blind side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact is not permitted." Add Downie leaving his feet to that equation and you have yourself an illegal hit.

On the other side of things, Chris Kunitz really should have known better. His teammate Matt Cooke is sitting out for at least 14 games because of an elbow to the head of an opposing player. 

I know he was upset about the Lovejoy hit, but there are better ways to handle it than elbowing someone in the face. Payback has nothing to do with whether a hit is justified or not and Kunitz was definitely in the wrong on this one.

So what happens from here?

Unfortunately, this is the NHL we're dealing with here. No one seems to know what's going to happen. Raffi Torres tried to separate Brent Seabrook's head from his body the other night and he got no suspension at all. Torres is even the dreaded "repeat offender" since that was his first game back from a previous suspension.

Knowing the NHL, I'll bet that Kunitz gets one game and that Downie gets nothing.  That's not saying the NHL hates the Penguins or whatever, it just seems to be their track record.

Colin Campbell will trot himself out on his high horse and state that Downie's play was a "hockey hit" while Kunitz's elbow was "malicious and designed to injure." Pittsburgh fans will be irate and Lightning fans will yell that the suspension isn't long enough.

It's all just another night in the NHL Playoffs.