It all started in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoff series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals when Tom Wilson made a questionable leg-on-leg hit on Conor Sheary, the hit resulted in a fine. But since then a series that many thought would be a classic has turned into a sloppy and dirty series that is a far cry from what many analysts predicted this matchup could be.
And the hits just keep on coming.
In Game 2, Capitals’ defenseman Brooks Orpik leveled Olli Maatta with a high, late hit which was followed by a three-game suspension and in Game 3 Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang’s high hit on Marcus Johansson puts Letang at risk of a potential suspension.
The loss of Letang could be a series shifter.
“I didn’t see him coming, he came from the blind side,” Johansson said after Game 3. “I just looked at it; he obviously leaves his feet, and hits me in the head. It’s the kind of play you want out of the league. Doesn’t look good.”
When asked if he expected the same thing to happen to Letang, Johannsson responded by saying; “Yeah, I’d say so”.
Maata’s return to the series remains unknown, Johansson returned to the ice on Monday night.
“I went through all the concussion tests and stuff like that. Just some issues with my neck right now,” Johansson said. “I just got hit right in the head and a little whiplash I think. It is what it is.”
Letang also spoke to the media;
“I mean, I didn’t see it,” Letang said of his hit on Johansson. “Things happened fast. I know he was down after the hit. He was OK, he returned to the game. He was pretty physical on me afterward. I was happy he wasn’t injured.
“I saw him coming full-speed. I tried to step up in the middle. Things happen fast, I can tell you that.” Letang made it clear that there was no intention to injure: “It was just a step up to hit him. There was no intention,” he said.
Washington’s lockerroom is hoping that the NHL treats the star players just like everyone else when handing out any forthcoming disciplinary measures:
“It will be interesting how they handle it,” said Washington goalie Braden Holtby. “If it’s fair, he won’t be in next game. But that’s out of our control.”
“It’s one of those ones that hopefully they treat everyone the same. That’s all I can say.”
While there were plenty of borderline plays not only in Game 3 but throughout the series, Holby believes that the team that can compose itself will come out on top.
“Yeah, that’s extremely key in playoffs,” Holtby said. “Your emotions, you have to keep them in check, you have to keep them level, where you can have your ultimate focus. We’ve been told by the refs and the league, retaliation is going to get called. And it should. It’s about mental toughness in that area, and we’re getting better and better as the playoffs go on.”
Brooks Orpik accepted his three-game suspension and said:
“It was a bad hit,” Orpik told the media. “It was intended to be a hard hit, definitely not at his head but I don’t think there is anything that you can argue that it was definitely late. I think that was pretty black and white. I said that during my hearing yesterday. So, I’m just disappointed. It’s a split-second decision you make and I just gotta live with it.”
“He’s a pretty good friend so it made the situation a little tougher,” said Orpik.
Orpik went the unusual route of accepting the suspension, calling the suspension “fair”.
“There wasn’t much arguing,” Orpik said. “I told them it was a late hit and I knew that’s why I was having a hearing. I don’t know about an argument. There wasn’t much arguing. I obviously told them there was no intent there and there was no denying it was late. That’s pretty much all there was to it. That was the end result. I didn’t really know what to expect out of how many games; whatever they gave me was something I was just going to have to accept. That’s what we’re going to do moving forward here and hopefully across the league they start punishing everything else the same way.”
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