Capitals’ Tom Wilson avoids suspension for hit on Brian Dumoulin

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Tom Wilson will not be punished for his hit on Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin during the Washington Capitals’ 4-1 victory in Game 2.

The hit occurred in the second period when Dumoulin got sandwiched between Wilson and Alex Ovechkin. After being tended to on the ice, Dumoulin left the game and did not return. Wilson was not penalized.

After reviewing the hit, the NHL Department of Player Safety determined that the play did not warrant a fine or suspension.

Here is their reasoning via Greg Wyshynski of ESPN.com:

“[T]he NHL Department of Player Safety determined that Wilson’s contact with Dumoulin was not considered an illegal check to the head. It felt that contact with the head was unavoidable on the play, and Dumoulin bracing himself for the Ovechkin hit materially changed the position of his head prior to Wilson making contact with him.”

The NHL’s Rule 48 states that when determining whether a check to the head is illegal, the body position of the player being hit is taken into consideration, especially if that player moves their body or head “immediately prior to or simultaneously with the hit in a way that significantly contributed to the head contact.” The DoPS also felt that Wilson’s positioning behind Dumoulin would not have allowed him to target the head.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

“I’m at no point trying to target the head at all,” Wilson said afterward via the Washington Post. “Unfortunately there’s a collision there. You know what, I’ve watched it briefly, and I don’t realize what I can really do any different. At the last second, I see [Ovechkin] coming in and you can see me bracing, as well, and I end up getting kind of taken out as well.”

As you might imagine, the Penguins, who were already playing without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin because of injury, were not happy with the play.

“Yeah I saw it, it looked like it was a high hit, but they didn’t see it that way,” Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan told NBC’s Pierre McGuire during the game.

“We all know who he is and what he does on the ice, so I don’t really have a comment,” said Penguins defenseman Kris Letang via the Tribune-Review. “We expect that from him.”

Dumoulin, who went through concussion protocol, participated in practice on Monday and will be a game-time decision for Game 3 (Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN), according to Sullivan.

“I knew Wilson was coming from behind. I saw Ovi come and braced for Ovechkin,” Dumoulin said. “I wasn’t ready for Wilson at all. I got caught in that.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Malkin, Dumoulin help Penguins score twice in five seconds vs. Flyers (Video)

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PHILADELPHIA — After a first period where they were outshot 11-4 but held a 1-0 lead, the Pittsburgh Penguins used the middle period to really separate themselves in Game 3 against the Philadelphia Flyers.

The Penguins would capitalize on two power play goals in the second period with Derick Brassard netting his first of the playoffs 2:48 in to make it 2-0. Four minutes later, with Pittsburgh on a 4-on-3 power play, Kris Letang set up Evgeni Malkin for a one-timer,  which resulted in goal number three on the afternoon.

[NBC’s Stanley Cup Playoff Hub]

As Flyers fans inside Wells Fargo Center were coming to grips with the three-goal deficit, the ensuing face-off following the Malkin goal quickly led to another Penguins scoring chance, with Sidney Crosby winning the draw and then finding Brian Dumoulin to make it 4-0.

According to the NHL, Pittsburgh’s two goals in five seconds matches a playoff record for two goals by one team. The feat did make Penguins franchise history in beating the previous playoff record of seven seconds set by Ron Stackhouse and Rick Kehoe in 1980.

Two goals in five seconds and a 4-1 lead after the second period is certainly a good way to respond to their ineffectiveness offensively on Friday night. The Penguins would hang on and take Game 3, 5-1, for a 2-1 series lead.

“It was big,” said Letang afterward, “I think our [special teams] were the reason we lost in Game 2. I think tonight they answered really well and those two goals were big for us.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Pittsburgh’s biggest question: Is the defense good enough?

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For a team not really known for its defense, the Penguins sure have seen defensemen fly off the shelves.

Last summer, teams spent $76.45 million to lure away Deryk Engelland (Calgary), Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik (Washington).

This summer, more of the same with the Sharks signing Paul Martin and the Kings inking Christian Ehrhoff.

The issue here is obvious — if Pittsburgh’s defense wasn’t that great to begin with and then lost all these guys, how good will it be heading into 2015-16?

“I’m comfortable with (our defense) going into the season,” Pens GM Jim Rutherford said earlier this summer, per USA Today. “But it is certainly the area we will watch the closest.”

Rutherford isn’t the only one that’ll be watching.

Eyes across the league will be glued to Pittsburgh following Rutherford’s bold renovation project. Nearly all of his moves this summer were designed to improve his forward group — adding the likes of Phil Kessel, Nick Bonino, Eric Fehr and KHLer Sergei Plotnikov — essentially banking on the idea that, ready or not, his collection of young defensemen will carry the load.

And it really is a young group.

Only Kris Letang, Rob Scuderi and Ben Lovejoy have appeared in over 200 NHL games; even a “veteran” presence like 26-year-old Ian Cole is a bit of a wildcard, given he was buried on a deep Blues blueline before being acquired last season (prior to ’14-15, Cole’s career high in games played was 46).

As such, kids are going to take on some pretty hefty roles.

Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, both 21, figure to get a lion’s share of the now-available minutes, while the likes of Adam Clendening (22), Brian Dumoulin (23) and Tim Erixon (24) will be fighting for depth spots — which, in Pittsburgh, are pretty important spots.

This is a defensive unit, remember, that was ravaged by injury a year ago (recall when the Pens only dressed five d-men against San Jose?) Things got so bad that, by the time the playoffs rolled around, Taylor Chorney was in the lineup.

Though the club has since hired two new staffers in an effort to “minimize injuries,” losing blueliners to injury always remains a concern.

But there is a wrinkle.

Rutherford, who took heat last year for rolling the dice on a thin blueline while stockpiling offense, says that his abundance of forwards may actually help out should he to add a defenseman.

“Hopefully the younger guys can fall into place and do a consistent job,” he explained. “If not, part of having more depth up front, is that it can help us in the long run because if we have to go get a defenseman we have those extra pieces.”

Translation: Rutherford knows the group might need help.

“I’m fully aware,” he said, “that at some point in time we may have to address that position.”

Pens’ Pouliot headed back to AHL

With the Pittsburgh Penguins season done, defenseman Derrick Pouliot will head back to the American Hockey League.

Pittsburgh’s AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, currently leads their best-of-five first-round matchup with the Syracuse Crunch 2-0. Game 3 is Wednesday.

Pouliot did not play in any of the five games against the New York Rangers. He suffered an upper body injury on April 7 in Ottawa, but told reporters on Sunday he’s healthy and ready to play.

The 21-year-old had seven points in 34 games with Pittsburgh while averaging 17:33 in time on ice. Pouliot also appeared in 31 AHL games scoring seven goals and 24 points.

Defenseman Brian Dumoulin, who had a plus-1 rating in the five game series, is also headed back to the AHL.

Blue liner Taylor Chorney said if he clears waivers, he will also join the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

NHL on NBCSN: Can Capitals take advantage of depleted Penguins?

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NBCSN will kick off its post-holiday schedule with back-to-back rivalry games tonight. The first will feature the Penguins and Capitals in Pittsburgh and start at 7:30 p.m. ET. In addition to NBCSN, you can also watch the game online.

Say what you will about the Penguins’ performance in their recent playoff runs — certainly there’s never a shortage of discussion on that subject — but they are an imposing team on paper and if nothing else, that has translated seamlessly in the regular season for years. They certainly have been an oppressive force against the Capitals, who haven’t beaten Pittsburgh since Jan. 11, 2012.

This is not a typical game for Pittsburgh though. The core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Marc-Andre Fleury should be on the ice, but a combination of injuries and the mumps have decimated the supporting cast. When the Penguins played against Tampa Bay on Tuesday, 22-year-old Bryan Rust spent his sixth career NHL game skating on a line with Crosby. Rob Klinkhammer, typically a bottom-six forward with 39 points in 137 career contests, was playing alongside Malkin. Their blueline featured three rookies that each made their NHL season debut this month in Derrick Pouliot, Brian Dumoulin, and Scott Harrington.

What a time it is for blueliners Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to make their return to Pittsburgh, especially when mixed with the fact that the Capitals are on a 7-1-2 run.

“We all feel really confident right now and we’re starting to climb in the standings,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner told CSN Washington. “It’s been kind of a perfect storm with important games, the Winter Classic coming up. It’s all coming together.”

Even still, it would be wrong to count the Penguins out. Despite the adversity that they’ve faced recently, the squad has remained competitive. Tampa Bay took a 4-0 lead against Pittsburgh, but even with its depleted roster and against one of the top teams in the league, the Penguins rallied back to at least make it a 4-3 loss.

“It says an awful lot about the leadership in this group,” Penguins coach Mike Johnston said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “Guys on the bench were into the game. They were down 4-0 but were talking about getting that first goal or about getting a power-play opportunity. We had them on their heels in the third period. That’s a good building block for us.”

So while this is a good chance for the Capitals to end their skid against Pittsburgh, it still won’t be easy.