PITTSBURGH -- Another game, another night of controversy in the Washington Capitals-Pittsburgh Penguins series. Pittsburgh prevailed 3-2 to take a 2-1 series lead but the story is Pens defenseman Kris Letang's high hit on Caps forward Marcus Johansson, although it wasn’t the only bit of nastiness in Game 3:
How it happened: The Capitals actually enjoyed the better share of play for much of the game, outshooting the Penguins 28-14 through 40 minutes but finding themselves down 3-0 at that point. They outshot the Penguins a whopping 49-23 overall.
The Penguins were opportunistic in taking advantage of their chances. The 3-0 goal in the second period was a great example; Phil Kessel jumped on a brutal turnover by Caps defenseman Nate Schmidt in a play that ended up with a Carl Hagelin goal.
It’s all the Penguins would need on a night when 21-year-old goalie Matt Murray was outstanding for a second straight game.
But it’s the bad blood that generated the buzz. It began with Letang’s high hit on Johansson 15:41 into the first period; the Caps player was in a vulnerable position after getting rid of the puck and hitting the ice hard after the Penguins star crushed him. It earned Letang a two-minute interference penalty -- Brooks Orpik got the same in Game 2 for his hit on Olli Maatta. Orpik was suspended Sunday for three games.
Letang's hit wasn’t so much late as it was high and made head contact. If the NHL deems it a Rule 48 violation, then there could be a hearing and a suspension for Letang. One factor: Johansson returned to finish the game. The severity of the injury to the player who was hit is always part of the discussion by the player safety committee, so that helps Letang’s case to some degree.
Penguins' Chris Kunitz slashed Justin Williams in the stomach area, a play that went unnoticed but clearly hurt the Caps winger, who left the game for a while but returned. And then Caps center Nicklas Backstrom tried to jump over Letang, who was on the ice, but kneed him in the back of the head. Accidental or accidental-on-purpose?
This series has turned downright nasty.
What it means: The Caps trail in the series 2-1 and have dropped four of their past six playoff games. They actually played a decent road game, but it’s time for their big offensive players to step it up. The Penguins are two wins away from moving on, but will they have to play a game or two without Letang, their top defenseman? That would be a huge blow to a thin Penguins blue-line.
8 vs. 87: Ovechkin was having another quiet night until he scored on an absolute rocket of a wrist shot 8:02 into the third period. It ended a five-game playoff scoring drought. Ovechkin was pretty good the rest of the night after scoring, around the net trying to make things happen, and got an assist after Williams scored off his rebound off the post.
Sidney Crosby had a decent effort, helped his team take a 1-0 lead on Patric Hornqvist's opening goal, set up Letang for a great chance late in the second period (Letang hit the post) and was terrific defensively and in the faceoff circle, where he went 15-7. Still, he remains without a point in the series.