Left winger Chris Kunitz was surprised when the NHL fined him for cross-checking Washington goalie Simeon Varlamov in the head during the final minute of Game 2 in the Penguins' second-round playoff series.
Not because he didn't expect punishment, but because he expected it to be more severe.
Kunitz said yesterday that while he has no real recollection of the incident, he suspected after watching a tape of it that he might be forced to sit out a game.
"It looks bad [on video]," he said. "I'm very fortunate, probably, that I didn't get a game suspension [because of a league crackdown on hits to the head]."
The NHL opted only to fine Kunitz an undisclosed amount, and he was back in the lineup for Game 3 at Mellon Arena last night.
The Penguins acquired Kunitz from Anaheim in late February in part because he can play a rugged, hard-hitting game, but stickwork isn't a regular part of his repertoire. His track record might well have played a part in the decision by Colin Campbell, the league's director of hockey operations, only to fine him.
"It's not how I usually want to play the game," Kunitz said. "But it's happened, it's over, and I just want to go out and play."
Kunitz added that he "was just trying to make space and get to the net" when the incident occurred, but accepted full responsibility for what happened.
"I was getting a little too aggressive in front and put my stick a little high, where it wasn't supposed to be," he said. "I was lucky I didn't get a penalty. ... That's something that should never happen again."
Defenseman Kris Letang looked as if he might have gotten a season-ending left-shoulder injury when Mike Green of the Capitals checked him into the boards with a little more than six minutes left in Game 2.
"He looked like he was in pain," center Sidney Crosby said yesterday.
True enough, but subsequent examinations determined that Letang's problem was a strain, not a separation or dislocation, and he was back in the lineup for Game 3.
The official word from Penguins coach Dan Bylsma was that choosing between Letang and Philippe Boucher was a "game-time decision," but it was evident at the game-day skate that Letang was capable of playing.
He not only went through the same drills as his teammates, but handled his usual duties on the left point of the No. 1 power-play unit, and reported no problems.
"I felt pretty good out there," he said. "I've got my strength back."
Center Evgeni Malkin is a finalist for the Lester B. Pearson Award, an honor bestowed by members of the NHL Players' Association to the league's most valuable player from the regular season.
The other finalists are Washington left winger Alex Ovechkin and Detroit center Pavel Datsyuk.
Malkin won the regular-season scoring championship with 113 points and is a Pearson finalist for the second year in a row.
The same three players are finalists for the Hart Trophy, the NHL's MVP award.
Mario Lemieux won the Pearson four times, while Jaromir Jagr did it three times and Crosby once.
With forward Casey Pierro-Zabotel under contract, defenseman Robert Bortuzzo is the only 2007 draft choice the Penguins must sign before the end of the month.
If no deal is reached by then, the Penguins will relinquish their rights to him and Bortuzzo will enter the talent pool for the June entry draft.
Bortuzzo was limited to 23 games with Kitchener of the Ontario Hockey League in 2008-09 because of a shoulder injury that required surgery.
Pierro-Zabotel, by the way, signed an amateur tryout deal with the Penguins' minor league team in Wilkes-Barre yesterday and is expected to be with the Baby Penguins for the balance of their run in the Calder Cup playoffs.
The Penguins scratched wingers Eric Godard andPetr Sykora and Boucher for the third consecutive game in this series. ... Crosby, who uses a straight blade on his stick, on not having to worry about opponents asking the officials to check the legality of his curve: "I don't think that's really a concern. I don't have to change my stick in the third period or anything like that."