Sidney Crosby was in the midst of another memorable playoff run before a cross-check to the head has the Pittsburgh Penguins’ transcendent superstar in an all-to-familiar place: the NHL’s concussion protocol. The Penguins look to overcome his absence and push the reigning Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals to the brink of elimination on Wednesday when the teams play Game 4 of their second-round series at PPG Paints Arena in Pittsburgh.
“He’s very upbeat and positive. We’re very optimistic and hopeful we’ll have him back in a timely fashion,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan told reporters on Tuesday of Crosby, a two-time Hart Trophy winner and a finalist for the award this season. The 29-year-old’s history of concussions is well-chronicled, and the latest chapter was written after he was blasted early in the first period of Monday’s 3-2 overtime loss by Washington defenseman and former Penguin Matt Niskanen. Niskanen received a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct and likely will be the subject of scorn by the Pittsburgh faithful on Wednesday. The 30-year-old Niskanen told reporters that it was “absolutely not” his intention to injure his former teammate while coach Barry Trotz flat-out dismissed the notion that sidelining Crosby was premeditated – “I hear the noise. I think it’s ridiculous, but we’re just going to look forward,” he said on Tuesday.
ABOUT THE CAPITALS: While a significant portion of the spotlight rests with Niskanen and his role in Crosby’s concussion, fellow defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk finally saw a positive light in the playoffs with his power-play goal 3:13 into overtime on Monday. The prized in-season acquisition had been called more derogatory names than most politicians after entering Game 3 with a league-worst minus-eight rating in eight playoff contests. Nicklas Backstrom has enjoyed more consistent success with a goal and an assist in back-to-back contests to give him a team-best 10 points (four goals, six assists) in nine games.
ABOUT THE PENGUINS: While Crosby remains the face of the league, fellow former Hart Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin leads the NHL with 15 points (four goals, 11 assists) in eight playoff games and is no stranger to picking up the slack in the absence of “Sid the Kid.” “(Malkin) is an elite player. He has that ability,” Sullivan told reporters. “We’re going to rely on him that much more, and we believe he’ll get the job done for us. I don’t think the burden falls on him solely.” Fellow forward Phil Kessel is the next man up both figuratively and literally, as the 29-year-old’s 12 points trail only Malkin in the league entering Tuesday.
1. Pittsburgh LW Conor Sheary also sustained a concussion on Monday after colliding with teammate Patric Hornqvist and has been ruled out of Game 4.
2. Capitals captain LW Alex Ovechkin has secured at least one point in all three games of the series (one goal, three assists) and has 25 (11 goals, 14 assists) in 16 career postseason contests versus the Penguins.
3. Pittsburgh offensive-minded D Justin Schultz has five points (one goal, four assists) in his past five games.
PREDICTION: Capitals 4, Penguins 2