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Tampa Bay Lightning-Pittsburgh Penguins series turns physical

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) tangles with Lightning left wing Simon Gagne during the third period.

DANIEL WALLACE | Times

Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) tangles with Lightning left wing Simon Gagne during the third period.

TAMPA — Lightning forward Simon Gagne stuck out his right elbow and leaned out with his body. Then he shoved his elbow out even farther.

That was his postgame imitation of Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, who was penalized two minutes for elbowing Gagne in the head during the first period of the Lightning's 3-2 Game 3 loss Monday vs. the Penguins.

As well as looking back, Gagne made a prediction.

"The league is going to look at it," Gagne said. "We all know the rules."

Gagne's coach, Guy Boucher, said the same thing. "I saw it," he said. "And the league is going to see it."

That was Gagne and Boucher's way of saying the league needs to consider suspending Kunitz for violating Rule 48, which prohibits players from targeting the head of an opponent. Replays appeared to show Kunitz clipping Gagne in the head as they passed one another in the Penguins zone midway through the first period.

"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."

While Gagne was upset with the hit, he was pleased to have survived it, given his history of concussion problems. "I feel okay," he said. "I finished the game."

Meanwhile, Kunitz's hit wasn't the only nasty one of the night. The Lightning's Steve Downie crushed Penguins defenseman Ben Lovejoy with a first-period hit when Downie appeared to leave his feet. The Penguins scored during the delayed penalty call.

"I knew it was coming," Lovejoy said. "You have to be aware when he is on the ice. It was a good hit, though I haven't seen (a replay). He certainly didn't get me in the head. He put his shoulder right into my chest. I knew it was going to be a hit like that. It's the Stanley Cup playoffs."

Ah, yes, the playoffs, where hardly a few seconds go by without the boards rattling. Even in this series. The Lightning and Penguins traditionally are not known as overly physical teams, but this has been a hard-hitting series. The teams combined for 68 hits in Game 3, more than a hit a minute.

"You look at every (playoff) game on TV and it's pretty much like that," Lightning captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "I didn't see (the Kunitz) hit, but there have been a couple of borderline hits. It's been physical, for sure. But that's what the playoffs are all about. This series is no different."

Lightning forward Marty St. Louis chose to sum up this way: "It's playoff hockey. You have to expect that every game."

Tampa Bay Lightning-Pittsburgh Penguins series turns physical 04/18/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 5:04pm]
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