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Letang, Penguins caught up in physicality

Defenseman penalized for hitting Capitals' Johansson in first period

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

Post Game: Kris Letang (05.02.16)

Kris Letang speaks to media after Game 3

Kris Letang speaks to the media after the Penguins win Game 3 in Pittsburgh Presented by 84 Lumber

  • 00:42 •

PITTSBURGH -- Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang planned to play physical against the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round.

Letang did that and felt he never crossed a line in a 3-2 win, which gave the Penguins a 2-1 lead in the best-of-7 series with Game 4 Wednesday in Pittsburgh (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports)

One day after the NHL Department of Player Safety announced Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik would be suspended three games for a hit that injured Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta early in Game 2, Letang was penalized for a high hit. Letang hit Marcus Johansson with 4:19 remaining in the first period, which forced the Capitals forward to temporarily leave the game.

Letang, who played 27:57 in Game 3 after playing at least 34:02 in the previous two, said he never meant to injure Johansson.

Video: Johansson on Letang hit, Caps talk Gm3 effort

"I saw him come in full speed," Letang said. "I tried to step up in the middle. Things happen fast …It was just a step up to hit him. [There was] no intention [to hurt Johansson] … Things happen fast in the game. I'm trying to make sure he doesn't go to the net after the play. It was a fast play."

Penguins coach Mike Sullivan didn't second-guess Letang's decision.

"It's a bodycheck," Sullivan said. "It's a real physical series. Both sides. And we can talk about these things after every game. We're just going to play. Our team's going to play hockey. We're going to play and that's what we're going to do. That's what we're telling our players to do."

Johansson returned to start the second period and hit Letang twice 18 seconds apart near the 6:00 mark. Letang said he was relieved Johansson was well enough to return.

"I know he was down after the hit, but I'm glad he was OK," Letang said. "He finished the game. He was pretty physical on me afterwards. I was happy he was not injured."

Later in the second period, Letang hit Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, which resulted in each falling to the ice. With Letang on his knees, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom attempted to leap over him, but caught Letang's head.

Letang had words with the Capitals bench before returning to his own, where he threw a water bottle onto the ground.

"I didn't see the replay. I got hurt pretty bad there in the head," Letang said. "I don't know what clipped me, but certainly something hit me … They were saying that I was staying down for no reason or something. That stuff happens. The chirping."

Although tempers have flared throughout the past two games, Letang thinks most of what has transpired has been no different than what is usually seen during a Stanley Cup Playoff series.

"It's playoff hockey right now. Nobody wants to give up any inches," Letang said. "In front of the net, you'll take a punch. You're going to take slashes. That stuff happens."

The Penguins have been outhit 132-75 through three games. Letang isn't bothered by the physical nature and has no problem continuing.

"The physical part is fine," Letang said. "I just think there's stuff after the whistle. There's stuff behind the play, but for the physical part, that's fine. It's the playoffs."

Letang was suspended one game by the NHL's Department of Player Safety on Tuesday.

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