Capitals, Penguins reflect on Crosby’s ‘gut-wrenching’ injury

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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.

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.