Penguins hold strong against Lightning, take 2-1 series lead; Kunitz suspension coming?

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It wasn’t pretty and there will be a lot of things aside from the game that will be discussed aside from the game, but Pittsburgh earned a huge Game 3 win in a rough game with Tampa Bay taking out the Lightning 3-2 and taking a 2-1 series lead.

Despite the Lightning getting a pair of power play goals from Martin St. Louis, Tyler Kennedy’s early third period goal broke a 2-2 tie and gave the Penguins a big win to take back home ice advantage in the series. Marc-Andre Fleury stood tall in this game making 25 saves and again providing the Penguins with the steady play in goal they needed to win.

What’s going to be talked about most in this game are a pair of dirty hits, one from each team. Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz caught Simon Gagne in the back of the head with a targeted and very purposeful elbow. Tampa Bay’s Steve Downie caught Pittsburgh defenseman Ben Lovejoy with a leaping blindside check that put Lovejoy down on the ice. Expect both players to hear from the NHL in one way or another and certainly expect to see both of them get hit with a suspension.

The Versus panel of Keith Jones and Jeremy Roenick discuss Kunitz’s elbow on Gagne after highlights of the game.

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As for Downie’s hit, it took place just before Maxime Talbot scored the first goal of the game and it was a thundering blow.

TSN’s Bob McKenzie reported tonight that both Kunitz and Steve Downie will have disciplinary hearings with the NHL tomorrow morning to decide what, if anything, will happen to them going forward.

That extracurricular stuff aside, the series has been just what we were expecting it to be: A tight-checking, physically demanding and close series. Both teams are rolling with strategies that make their coaches look more like chessmasters than head coaches. Figuring out ways to break each other down and expose weaknesses has become as big a priority for both Dan Bylsma and Guy Boucher as lineup management is.

Scoring isn’t easy in this series and figuring out ways to make life better for their offense requires sneaky strategy. They’ll need to be more on the ball in Game 4 as both teams will likely have to make a lineup change with the nonsense from Kunitz and Downie.

What do you think Kunitz’s punishment will be for his elbow on Simon Gagne? Will he escape punishment the way Raffi Torres did or is he going away for a while? Let us know in our poll.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.