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Insider Only Game 3: Minus Crosby, Penguins show great resolve and compete level in OT Loss

Capitals 3 – Penguins 2

“Thought it was really a hockey play. Unfortunate Sid got injured.” — Capitals coach Barry Trotz

“It wasn’t intentional.” — Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen

Game 3 Fallout

The Pittsburgh Penguins minus Sidney Crosby who exited Game 3 in the first period on a hit from Matt Niskanen, dropped Game 3 with a 3-2 overtime loss and if there’s anything of a moral victory in the playoffs, the Penguins got it.

If the Penguins are without Crosby for Game 4 or multiple games in the series, the Capitals will be in for a rude awakening if they think the Penguins are going to fold and roll cover.

That group inside the room remains confident they can still get the job done, with or without Crosby.

Even if the Penguins didn’t have the epic comeback in the final 1:53 of regulation with 6-on-5 goals from Evgeni Malkin and Justin Schultz to force overtime, we’d still be saying the Penguins did a lot of the little things well throughout the game to put themselves in position to win.

After Crosby left in the first period, the skilled game was dreadful at times for the Penguins, but the Penguins just competed and competed in this one to be a bounce away from winning.

“We just play the game. We played the game hard. Thought our guys competed extremely hard tonight,” said Mike Sullivan who marveled afterwards about the Penguins compete level. “I loved our compete level.”

While the Penguins without Crosby didn’t create the type of grade-A chances they created in Games 1 and 2, and the power play was a mess without him, this was the Penguins best game of the series in tilting the ice with their speed game for longer stretches than they had in the previous two games and the Penguins were much improved in neutralizing the Capitals transition game through the neutral zone.

The Penguins speed game was more noticeable in all three zones than it had been.

The one blunder for the Penguins in the third period, who live and die with their d-men pinching, was a bad Trevor Daley pinch that led to an odd-man rush the other way and Evgeny Kuznetsov converting to put the Capitals up 2-0.

As long as the strong goaltending continues from Marc Andre Fleury who continues to track the puck better than he ever has, the Penguins blueprint was there in Game 3 on how they need to survive if Crosby misses any more time.

“These guys are just great character guys,” Sullivan said of his group. “They never look for an excuse. Fortunately we have some good hockey players. “I think this group has so much character and talent we can endure the injuries.”

Good and Bad from Capitals

What did we learn from the Capitals Monday night?

They played like a team through the first 60 minutes that just continues to look like it’s missing something. Even though they carried a 2-0 lead with under two minutes to play, the Capitals never took over the game for lengthy stretches like they did in Games 1 and 2.

There was not one sequence from Game 3 where the Penguins appeared to be overwhelmed, despite missing the best player in the world and playing with 10 forwards.

Losing a 2-0 lead the way they did was so Washington but if Capital fans are looking for some optimism, it was how they rebounded and dominated overtime in finishing the job with a Kevin Shattenkirk overtime goal.

How they carried the play in OT show some resolve from them.

If you’re going to be a championship team, shining through moments like that when dealing with adversity of blowing a lead and having your season on the line could be the jolt that finally see’s the Capitals take the next step that’s alluded them in past playoff failures vs the Penguins.

We’re really going to find out about this Capitals team in Game 4.

Crosby to escape serious injury?

Will Sidney Crosby return this series?

One source close to the situation says preliminary evaluation showed Crosby looked to have avoided any knee damage, though further evaluation was expected this morning to make sure, and the obvious area to watch is the head and how he responds the next 24-48 hours.

Mike Sullivan provided no update on Crosby after the game but did sneak in a “we’re hopeful that won’t be the case,” when asked about losing Crosby long-term.

On the Matt Niskanen hit, there is obvious outrage in Pittsburgh and a lot less outside of Pittsburgh.

Barry Trotz called it a “hockey play” and a reactionary situation. Niskanen not known as a predatory player, says the hit was not intentional.

“It wasn’t intentional,” said Niskanen. “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.”

Niskanen said afterwards he wasn’t trying to cross-check with any force and the league agrees.

“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.”

Niskanen will not be suspended for the hit, and a big reason why according to one league source, is the league determined he never stretches out his arms to deliver an intended hit to injure. The source called it a hockey play gone bad.

That’s how the league see’s it and I can see where they’re coming from to an extent. If this was Tom Wilson or even Brooks Orpik who plays on an edge, then I would certainly have a different view.

It was an unfortunate reckless play that started with the Ovechkin slash but I don’t understand what more fans wanted done last night.

Niskanen got the book thrown at him with a 5-minute major and game misconduct which is significant for a playoff game. Want the Full Story? Get "Inside Access"

About The Author

William DePaoli

TIOPS Insider

William DePaoli is the President/Founder of Inside Pittsburgh Sports LLC and can be reached at

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