PITTSBURGH — The main talking point to come out of the Washington Capitals’ 3-2 overtime win on Monday night isn’t going to be the result, or the fact Kevin Shattenkirk made up for some of his postseason struggles by scoring the winning goal.
It is going to be the play that knocked Sidney Crosby out of the game in the first period, what will happen to Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen as a result of it, and when we might see Crosby back on the ice.
As for the latter point, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan had no update on Crosby’s status after the game only to say all of the Penguins injured players will be evaluated overnight and that they will “go from there.”
But for everything else there were no shortage of opinions.
First, Niskanen himself answered for the play and insisted that he was not trying to cross-check Crosby in the head.
Or at all, really.
“Absolutely not,” said Niskanen when asked if he was trying to hit Crosby in the head.
“It wasn’t intentional. I’ve seen the replay, and the super slo-mo looks really bad. I caught him high, I think he’s coming across, trying to score. As he is doing that, he’s getting lower and lower, and when it’s happening that fast, my stick and his head collided. I wasn’t extending, trying to hit him in the head. It happened quickly.”
He was asked a follow-up question about trying to cross-check him elsewhere and then ended up catching his head as Crosby fell.
“I wasn’t even trying to cross-check him with a serious amount of force,” said Niskanen. “A collision was gonna happen there in the crease. When the play first starts, I think my stick is at about his arm level. Right about where the numbers are on the side of his jersey. Because he’s trying to make a play, he’s getting lower and lower, because he’s getting pressured trying to score. So the collision happened.”
Penguins forward Chris Kunitz, naturally, saw it a completely different way.
“It’s obviously gut-wrenching,” said Kunitz.
“A guy that is the best player in the world, playing in his prime, just dominating games. It’s one of those things that you look at it once and you see what actually happened and I think the next thing is watching how it deliberate it was when the guy cross-checks him in the face. I thought all of that was kind of out of our league, but I guess not.”
He also added, “I like Nisky as a person, but I don’t think it’s a very nice hit. I don’t think it’s something this game is looking for.”
Capitals coach Barry Trotz called it a “hockey play,” and said it was unfortunate that Crosby ended up getting injured as a result of it.
He was then challenged by a reporter asking if the initial hit from Alex Ovechkin that knocked Crosby off balance was also “a hockey play,” resulting in a somewhat testy back-and-forth exchange.
“Was there a penalty?” Said Trotz regarding that portion of the play. “I am not going to defend anything. You want me to defend Alex? Then is Kunitz’s predatory hit on Oshie okay? Or the one on Backstrom? Is that Okay? I am not going to debate all of that stuff.”
Penguins coach Mike Sullivan, meanwhile, refused to get involved by saying, “I would rather not share my opinion on that play.”
Sullivan was then asked if it was harder than usual for him to sell his “just play” message after seeing his team’s captain and best player get knocked out of the game.
“No,” said Sullivan. “That’s what this team does. We are going to play the game hard and we are going to do what we can to win hockey games. That is what we did tonight.”
Game 4 of the series is on Wednesday night in Pittsburgh.
The Penguins hold a 2-1 lead in the series.