In case you missed it, the other Eastern Conference Semifinal series continued last night in Pittsburgh. After losing the first two games at home, the top seeded Caps defeated the Pens 3-2 in overtime on Kevin Shattenkirk’s power play goal at 3:13.
It really was a wild and chaotic game that had a bit of everything. That included ex-Pens defenseman Matt Niskanen being assessed a five-minute major and game misconduct for crosschecking Sidney Crosby in the head. A controversial play that occurred after Crosby was engaged in front of Braden Holtby while trying to score. He took a slash from behind from Alexander Ovechkin and lost his footing as Niskanen closed in. There was no intent but the Washington defenseman did make contact with Crosby up high injuring him. He left the game and didn’t return. Here’s the play in question:
Originally, I felt it should only be a minor penalty for cross checking. But as NBC’s Mike Milbury and Keith Jones analyzed during intermission, Niskanen did make contact with Crosby’s head. You are responsible for your stick. Of course, my timeline didn’t agree. Some even felt it wasn’t even a penalty which was insanity. Sure. Crosby gets the benefit of the doubt when it comes to some of his stick work. But come on.
As for how it impacted the game, the Caps were able to take a 2-0 lead on the Pens. Nicklas Backstrom was able to bank a puck in off Pittsburgh’s Ian Cole past Marc-Andre Fleury during a five-on-three in the first period. That was about the only way they could beat Fleury, who was outstanding. In the third, Evgeny Kuznetsov patiently waited for Fleury to go down before shooting over his outstretched pad to finish off a three-on-two on a great pass from Marcus Johansson giving Washington a two-goal lead.
The way they played, it looked like it was a foregone conclusion they would win without a problem. But they are the Caps and the Pens are the Pens. With Fleury pulled for an extra attacker and the Pens down two players (Crosby and Conor Sheary), Evgeni Malkin beat Holtby with a wicked one-timer short side high glove to make it 2-1 with 1:53 left. It was a ridiculous shot off a great feed from Phil Kessel.
I joked about how funny it would be if the Caps blew it. With the Rangers Game 2 debacle still fresh, Washington made it look tame. Indeed, they collapsed even worse by allowing Justin Schultz to tie the game 48 seconds later when his one-timer from Malkin deflected off T.J. Oshie and past Holtby with 1:05 remaining.
It really was astonishing. Here were the Caps who needed this game in the worst way. They couldn’t close out the Pens, who were without two forwards including the world’s best player. That hurt Pittsburgh tremendously with their power play 0-for-5. In fact, they hadn’t mustered much in the third until Fleury went off. They were able to score the two goals despite only having six shots. That’s how well the Caps defended 5-on-5.
Needless to say, another great Pens comeback forced the game into sudden death. Could the Caps recover? They were helped out when Johansson split Olli Maatta and Trevor Daley forcing Daley to go off for holding 2:40 into overtime. Off a good rush and entry from Kuznetsov, Backstrom worked the puck to an open Shattenkirk at the point. A player who had struggled mightily throughout, he did the one thing he’s good at. Shattenkirk unleashed a perfect wrist shot through traffic that beat Fleury at 3:13 of OT to give the Caps a huge win.
In doing so, they saved their season. Now, it’s a series. Also, there was a lot more physicality and scrums which led to the teams going at it. That stuff favors the Caps because the Pens aren’t the kind of team who likes to do that. They got sucked into some bad penalties. In particular, Malkin who boarded Tom Wilson from behind to hand Washington a power play.
More interesting was the post game press conference of Washington coach Barry Trotz. He discussed the Niskanen play and called it a hockey play. It was more of a reaction than anything. For his part, Niskanen said he didn’t mean for Crosby to get hurt and hoped he’d be back. The question is what is his status. He looked to have turned an ankle prior to Niskanen’s hit. Is that the injury or should fans be concerned about a possible concussion? Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan provided no update on either Crosby or Sheary while refusing to discuss the Niskanen cross check. He was fuming.
There was a heated exchange between Trotz and Pittsburgh troll Rob Rossi. A biased Pens beat reporter who frequently crosses the line with garbage columns that are an insult to hockey fans. He accused Ovechkin of causing Crosby’s injury due to the uncalled slash which made him prone to the Niskanen high hit.
The article is pure trash from someone who isn’t objective. That Trotz barked back at him when he tried to goad him during a question and answer segment showed a lack of professionalism. Trotz handled it well. Rossi basically tried to bully the Caps coach.
It is what it is. This is who Rossi is. A tool who somehow gets paid to cover the sport. He wants Ovechkin tossed from the series for an uncalled minor penalty for slashing. Of course, he also wants Niskanen given the gate and accused the Caps of planning to deliberately injure Crosby. All cause Backstrom called a team meeting following Game 2.
This isn’t the old days. That stuff doesn’t happen anymore. Especially during a playoff series of a game of utmost significance. The Caps needed to focus on the scoreboard. Winning was the only option. That they were able to escape with a victory after the late third period collapse showed a lot of character.
It’s an absurd accusation by a clueless writer who has a clear bias. I don’t even think Pittsburgh fans can defend this nonsense.
Game 4 should be a real treat. It will be very interesting to see what happens.