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a rob rossi hockey column

NHL should stick it to Alex Ovechkin

Alex Ovechkin shouldn't play another game in these Stanley Cup playoffs.

He will.

And that is why very few people of reason take the NHL seriously.


The Capitals' Matt Niskanen delivers a check — into the Penguins' Sidney Crosby — heard around the NHL in Game 3. (Tribune-Review)

The hockey world was damaged Monday night when the only hockey player most Americans know (Sidney Crosby) was driven from hockey's grandest stage by a crosscheck from Matt Niskanen. That the Capitals wound up winning Game 3 in overtime, snuffing the Penguins' rally from a 2-0 deficit in the third period, only added insult to Crosby's injury.

With no due respect intended to people who saw it differently, Niskanen's action was deserving of its punishment. He received a major penalty and a game misconduct.

It was a small price to pay considering Crosby also didn't finish a fairly significant hockey match.

Niskanen should receive an excused absence (autographed by the league's Player Safety department) for the remainder of the Capitals' best-of-seven series against the Penguins.

Even if he didn't mean it.

Though, based only by his previous behavior towards Crosby — in Games 1 and 2 of this series, but also Games 1 through 6 of Round 2 a year ago, and dating to his pre-Penguins tenure with the Dallas Stars — Niskanen cannot be rationally considered to have lacked intent to injure.

While playing with the Penguins, Niskanen was a sneaky, borderline dirty player. These days, he has opted to skate across that border.

For Player Safety not to look at Niskanen's history against Crosby would be the height of credulity.

Alas, the NHL being the NHL, credulity's peak is limitless.

Which is exactly why the NHL could — and should — throw the book at Ovechkin, who skated freely despite playing a big role in Crosby's injury.

Ovechkin was the reason Crosby only lasted three shifts in Game 3. He was the Capital most responsible for Crosby's injury.

He carelessly lifted his stick into Crosby's head, forcing the NHL's sturdiest skater to stagger into Niskanen. If Ovechkin hadn't gone that route, Crosby wouldn't have gone headfirst into a check.

Ovechkin, who never met a leap he wouldn't take, who holds high the stick he often swings at opponents, was the dirty-deed doer at PPG Paints Arena in Game 3.

Ovechkin, who can't beat Crosby on the ice, decided to remove him from it.

Makes you wonder what that closed-door meeting called by Capitals players was really about after their blowout defeat in Game 2, huh?

Not really.

If they say it wasn't about eliminating Crosby, the Capitals are liars. And if that sounds like an unfair accusation to make of the Capitals, then please consider my decade of experience covering a sport I love and a league I really, really, really want to give the benefit of the doubt.

(Or maybe consider their coach publicly saying his players must go places they hadn't gone before?)

Sorry, but I cannot give the Capitals, or the NHL, any benefit. And I doubt very much there wasn't an intent to injure Crosby when this series shifted to Pittsburgh.

If you need to know why, go ahead and watch what has happened the past couple of postseasons when Crosby played for the Penguins against the Capitals.

The Capitals lost. And Crosby, as he usually has been, was one of the biggest reasons.

More than he is The Face of Hockey, Crosby is the Face of Fear for the Capitals. He's haunted them as if ordered to by the hockey gods.

He was on the haunt again in this series, too.

Pens trainer Chris Stewart attends to fallen captain Crosby in Game 3. (Tribune-Review)

Had the Capitals lost Game 3, they were going to be swept from a postseason they had ticketed as their ride toward glory. They had ticketed last postseason similarly, and the Capitals arrived in Pittsburgh knowing full well this one was going like that one.

No Capital gripped that ticket tighter than Ovechkin, with understandable reason. He is arguably the greatest hockey player to never win the Cup.

He also is indisputably as filthy as his right-handed shot is ferocious.

And in a playoff game his reputation could not stand to lose, the dominant goal scorer of his generation resorted to raising his magic wand wildly in the direction of his historic rival's famously previously concussed brain.

Could describe what Ovechkin did many ways. Would not call it a "hockey play."

Neither would Capitals coach Barry Trotz after Game 3.

See it however you want, folks.

From here, the view was obvious. Ovechkin went after Crosby's head.

If the NHL keeps allowing him to play in its hallowed postseason for having done that, it really is the "garage league," as Penguins co-owner Mario Lemieux infamously once deemed.

So please, good people of the Player Safety department, surprise me, shock mostly everybody else and do something significant in the name of your namesake and safety.

Rise up and stick it to Alex Ovechkin… just as he did to Sidney Crosby.

Rob Rossi is our sports editor

Follow tribLIVE for complete coverage of the Penguins' playoff run

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