Pens want justice for Ovechkin hit

Rob Longley, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 11:17 PM ET

PITTSBURGH - Matt Cooke knows what the verdict would be if it was him on the stand today facing what passes for NHL justice.

“If I did what he did, I wouldn’t be on the ice,” the Penguins forward said Friday night in the bittersweet aftermath of a critical 5-3 win over the Washington Capitals.

Matt Cooke is not Alex Ovechkin, however, which is the challenge NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell faces in making a ruling prior to tonight’s Game 5 of the rivetting best-of-seven Eastern Conference semi-final that is now tied at 2-2.

Ovechkin’s knee-on-knee hit on Sergei Gonchar in the first period had the star defenceman writhing on the Mellon Arena ice and potentially gone for the remainder of the Penguins’ playoff run.

And it had the Pens seething and fiercely seeking justice despite having just put the series back on equal terms.

“He goes out there to hurt players,” Pens defenceman Brooks Orpik said of the flamboyant Russian star. “That’s three games in a row against us. Just watch the way the guy hits. He leaves his feet and takes countless strides at guys. There’s a line you can’t cross and he does it.

“We’re not in charge of suspending guys, but it looks pretty obvious to us.”

In what was an all around wasted night for Ovechkin, who was held to just two shots on net and no points, what the league decides today may carry as much weight on how the remainder of the series plays out.

Saturday's contest, as all Game 5's, has massive implications for the series, so too then does the manner in which the NHL handles it.

Campbell must decide if, as the Caps claim, Ovechkin led with his shoulder and then couldn’t move quick enough to avoid contact. And depending on the level of guilt, there is a matter of weighing on team’s superstar being taken down by another.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Ovechkin, who was issued a two-minute minor on the play. “I will say I wanted to hit him but I didn’t want to hurt him, especially knee on knee. That’s not my play.

“I was disappointed too. But it’s a game and sometimes it happens."

While the Ovechkin smash was the major buzz of Game 5, it wasn’t the only talking point in a series that is sensational on so many levels.

There was the suddenly suspect play of Caps rookie sensation, Simeon Varlamov, who was extremely shaky in the Caps net, especially in surrendering a pair of soft first-period goals by Gonchar and especially Ruslan Fedotenko.

And there was Pens captain Sidney Crosby scoring a goal (the game winner) and adding an assist, to grab a share of the playoff scoring lead with Anaheim’s Ryan Getzlaf.

But the talk this morning will be all about Ovechkin and for none of the reasons that made him such a compelling figure just four days earlier after he traded hat tricks with Crosby in Washington’s thrilling Game 2 win.

Predictably, the Caps were standing by their man, who they will need badly Saturday to avoid being crushed by the momentum of the surging Penguins.

“If anyone looked at that replay, (Ovechkin) led with his shoulder,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said. “It was a shoulder check that he missed, that’s all.”

The Pens will beg to differ and argue as much with the league today, should they get the chance.

The stakes are that much higher given that the victim is Gonchar, a savvy veteran so crucial to the team’s late-season success. With the Russian out of the lineup for 56 games due to a shoulder injury, the Penguins were hardly the team that became such a late-season factor in the Eastern Conference.

“I think it was kneecap on kneecap and the league reviews these things,” Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said. “The video shows exactly what it is.”

It is Colin Campbell’s eyes that matter now, however. And a series twisting and turning its way to being a classic, may well hinge on what he decides.


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