Penguins beat Capitals to tie series, 2-2
The Capitals' Alex Ovechkin hits the ice after getting checked by Penguins' Mark Eaton in the third period of Game 4 of the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs at Mellon Arena last night.
Sergei Gonchar is attended to after a knee injury that forced his exit in the first period of last night's playoff game against the Washington Capitals at Mellon Arena.
The Penguins' Ruslan Fedotenko celebrates his goal in the first period against the Capitals last night at Mellon Arena.
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For three games, the Penguins' second-round playoff series with Washington was intense, occasionally nasty.
Last night, for at least a few seconds, it turned downright ugly.
The Penguins evened the series, 2-2, with a 5-3 victory in Game 4 at Mellon Arena, but the outcome was almost overshadowed by a knee-to-knee hit from Capitals left winger Alex Ovechkin that knocked Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar out of the game.
Maybe the series. Perhaps the playoffs, even if the Penguins manage to advance.
The unofficial word circulating after the game was that Gonchar likely will be out for weeks, not hours or days, although coach Dan Bylsma said he still was being evaluated and that his status was not determined.
If Gonchar can't play tonight in Game 5 at the Verizon Center, he likely will be replaced by veteran Philippe Boucher, a healthy scratch for nine of the Penguins' 10 games to date.
Whether the hit will cost Ovechkin any playing time, via a suspension issued by the league, is unclear.
The Penguins seemed convinced that the incident will be reviewed, but not particularly optimistic there will be any significant punishment.
"The league reviews these things, and they'll take care of everything the way they see fit," Bylsma said.
Gonchar, who scored the Penguins' first goal and began the night averaging a team-high 27 minutes, 12 seconds of ice time, left the game with an apparent right-knee injury at 14:55 of the first period after Ovechkin ran into him deep in the Penguins' end.
Ovechkin was assessed a tripping minor, an unusual call under the circumstances.
After Ovechkin ran into him -- there was considerable debate over whether he intentionally homed in on Gonchar's knee before making contact -- Gonchar dropped to the ice in obvious pain. He did not get to his feet for the better part of a minute, then went directly to the locker room and did not return.
Reaction to Ovechkin's hit, like most things associated with Washington, was split along party lines.
Ovechkin characterized the hit as a conventional check gone bad -- "I tried hitting him with my shoulder. He just moved left" -- and Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau offered a similar assessment.
"If anybody looked at the replay, he led with his shoulder," Boudreau said.
"Your leg's falling. It was a shoulder check that he missed. That's it."
Some of the Penguins, while convinced that Ovechkin led with his leg, were wary of speaking too candidly about the hit. Defenseman Brooks Orpik wasn't one of them.
"The referees have a really, really tough job," he said. "To be honest, I don't think they had a really good angle on it, so it was tough for them to call. But we had the luxury of replays, and from the angles we saw, it definitely looked like [Ovechkin] stuck his leg out at [Gonchar].
"Sometimes when guys jump out of the way, it's a reaction thing, but it's kind of the same thing he did with me last game. You can run guys and guys are fair game, but [Ovechkin] takes countless strides every time and leaves his feet a lot of the time, too.
"We got the feeling that he's really trying to hurt guys at times."
Losing Gonchar forced the Penguins to play the balance of the game with five defensemen -- "The five remaining guys did pretty well to hunker down and try to pick up the slack," defenseman Mark Eaton said -- and Evgeni Malkin dropped back into his spot on the right point of the No. 1 power-play unit.
Gonchar scored at 3:55 of the opening period on the first of six Penguins power plays, negating a goal Nicklas Backstrom got 36 seconds into the game and triggering a three-goal run that included contributions by Bill Guerin (10:47) and Ruslan Fedotenko (15:25) before the intermission.
Chris Clark of Washington scored the only goal of the second period, but Crosby countered that by steering in a Miroslav Satan feed at 4:16 of the third. Crosby's goal, his ninth, became the winner when Capitals defenseman Milan Jurcina got a short-handed goal at 6:23 to make it 4-3.
That ratcheted up the stress level among the standing-room crowd of 17,132 considerably, but Max Talbot eased the tension by beating Capitals goalie Simeon Varlamov from near the left dot at 14:46 to close out the scoring and assure the series has been reduced to a best-of-three.
Whether the Penguins can win two of those without Gonchar remains to be seen.
"It's going to be a little bit different," defenseman Kris Letang said.
"We're going to have to adjust, but we still have a great team."
Matchup: Penguins at Washington Capitals, 7:08 p.m. today, Verizon Center, Washington.
Internet: Live game blog at Empty Netters
Series: Capitals led, 2-1, before last night.
Probable goaltenders: Marc-Andre Fleury for Penguins. Simeon Varlamov for Capitals.
Penguins: Are 2-3 in road playoff games. ... Are 18-15 all time in Game 5. ... Sergei Gonchar's 8 points were tied for second most among defensemen before last night.
Capitals: Were outshot, 114-82, in first three games. ... LW Alex Ovechkin had multiple points in 8 of 17 career playoff games before last night. ... C Nicklas Backstrom entered last night with 10 assists, three shy of club single-season playoff record.
Hidden stat: Going into last night, Capitals and Penguins were tied at 12.4 penalty minutes per game.
First Published May 9, 2009 12:00 am