For Flyers, Penguins, Kunitz hit still in their heads

Referee tries to break up a fight between Flyers' Scott Hartnell and Pens' Chris Kunitz after Kunitz leveled Kimmo Timonen.
Referee tries to break up a fight between Flyers' Scott Hartnell and Pens' Chris Kunitz after Kunitz leveled Kimmo Timonen.
Posted: April 21, 2009

It doesn't take a lot of pondering to figure out that the game plan for Pittsburgh Penguins winger Chris Kunitz is to try and take the Flyers' best defenseman out of the series.

Not having Kimmo Timonen in the Eastern Conference finals last year was a killer for the Flyers' chances of advancing to the Stanley Cup finals. But it can be said that Kunitz crossed the line Sunday and tried to hurt Timonen with a high check to the head behind the net early in the game.

Kunitz came flying in and leveled Timonen. Scott Hartnell's reaction was to chase Kunitz down and fight him.

"I couldn't believe it was actually possible [Timonen] got up and finished the game," Hartnell said.

But Kunitz said he was just playing his game.

"It's just the way I play hockey," he said. "I go in straight lines, want to finish checks and go to the net and puck retrieval. These types of things that coaches tell me is good for me to play my game - I just try to do that every night."

The hit didn't prompt a call from the referees and it was reviewed by the league, according to Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren, who said all hits are reviewed.

"Nothing is going to come of it," was all Holmgren would say.

But the play seemed to justify the Flyers' belief that at times there is a different level of justice for them compared to their opponents. Daniel Carcillo's hit to the back of Max Talbot's head in Game 1 deserved the one-game suspension, but the Kunitz hit looked like a direct attempt to injure another player - and Kunitz was left undisciplined.

The league has talked about eliminating headshots from the game, and Kunitz went very high on Timonen.

Flyers coach John Stevens said he had no doubt of the intent.

"It was an intense game, and I think Kimmo saw him coming and he had to get rid of the puck so he didn't have time to prepare to get hit like that," Stevens said.

"The angle I saw, there were three guys all together and it was a hard, hard hit, and my only concern is if there was a hit to the head there.

"It didn't look like he left his feet and I didn't hear from anybody else that there was an elbow or anything, but it was a hard, hard hit."

Penguins star Sidney Crosby defended his linemate.

"He's a pit bull," Crosby said of Kunitz, whom the Penguins acquired from Anaheim on Feb. 25. "Usually, he's either hitting or being hit. He plays the perfect game for the playoffs."

After the game, Timonen deflected a question that Kunitz was coming after him and has been since Game 1, but yesterday he acknowledged that he felt Kunitz was trying to hurt him.

"You can tell that for sure," Timonen said. "I didn't have the puck even, it was in the corner. If his mind-set is to go into a game and try to hurt me, I don't really care, and hopefully we can do the same thing for them [tonight].

"That's the way you get somebody off their game. But it really doesn't bother me if I stay healthy. But I feel fine now and I'm looking forward to [tonight] actually."

Timonen said he is as surprised as some of his teammates that he got right up and didn't suffer a concussion.

"After seeing the replay, I'm surprised. I was glad I was able to see him coming. But I was in bad position. I knew I was going to get hit and there was nothing I could do about it," Timonen said.

"I couldn't go the other way; I was kind of leaning forward, leaning down. For a second I knew I was going to get hit hard, but maybe that was the reason I am still able to play.

"I saw the replay this morning. It was a hard hit. If you look at what happened during the game there are a lot of hits, but it's not my job to judge if it was a penalty.

"If you let them kind of affect your game, I know they are going to try and hit me and hit other guys, too, but if you start thinking about that during a game, or before the game, you're going to kind of let your own game down."

Flyers captain Mike Richards and several teammates said they believe Kunitz is doing what all players do in a playoff series, just trying to wear down the opposition's best players.

"That's maybe our strategy for [Sergei] Gonchar and [Evgeni] Malkin and Crosby," Richards said. "Every chance I get, I'm trying to hit Malkin, I'm trying to hit Crosby, I'm taking runs at Gonchar, too.

"So I'm sure they're not too thrilled about that, but that's playoff hockey. That's what you try to do to get them off their game."

Pittsburgh's Jordan Staal, who caught the hit from his spot on the bench, called it "one of the best you'll ever see."

He also backed the idea of naming that hit "The Kunikaze." *

Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review contributed to this report.

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