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Matt Niskanen of Capitals says no intent to injure Sidney Crosby

Penguins center sidelined for Game 4 with concussion after cross-checking incident

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / NHL.com Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Washington Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen said he has not tried to contact Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby since he cross-checked him in the head in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round on Monday.

Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion and will miss Game 4 of the best-of-7-series at PPG Paints Arena on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports). The Penguins lead 2-1.

"I don't think there's anything I can say that's going to make him feel better about it," Niskanen said after the morning skate. "I'm sure he's [angry]. When the time is right I'll probably reach out to him after the boiling over kind of cools down. But at this time there's probably not much I can say to him that's going to make him feel better about it or believe me."

 

[RELATED: Penguins tasked with plowing ahead without Crosby | Complete Capitals-Penguins coverage]

 

Niskanen played with Crosby on the Penguins for four seasons before signing with the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent on July 1, 2014. He said they had a good relationship as teammates.

"I haven't talked to him as much, obviously, since I changed teams, but when I was here I got along with him really well," Niskanen said. "He's a good leader, a great teammate. I always stood up for him when I was here. I think he could say the same thing about me, that we were good teammates and got along well."

Their relationship might never be the same now, but Niskanen reiterated that he did not intend to hit Crosby in the head on the play, which came 5:24 into the first period Monday. Crosby was driving to the net on a 2-on-1 with Jake Guentzel when Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin whacked him on the right arm and then caught him in the head with his stick.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Crosby exits with injury early in 1st

Ovechkin's right skate also caught the back of Crosby's left leg, causing him to stumble as he cut across the crease. As Crosby was falling, Niskanen cross-checked him in the right side of his head.

"My intent was not to forcefully cross-check in him in the face," Niskanen said. "I think anybody that knows me, I'm not trying to hit guys in the head. I'm trying to play hard within the rules, hit guys in the body, and to be honest with you I wasn't even trying to hit him on that play. It was a collision that happened because he was coming in with a serious amount of speed and trying to score. He was getting lower and lower, partially because he was falling down."

Niskanen received a five-minute major for cross-checking and a game misconduct. Crosby remained down for a few minutes before being helped up and gliding off the ice. Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said Tuesday that Crosby will miss Game 4 after being diagnosed with a concussion and will be re-evaluated daily.

"It's hard to see a player go down and it's hard to see him get hurt," Ovechkin said. "As a player, you don't want that stuff to happen. I hope he's going to be fine and he's going to be back in this series."

Niskanen was asked if he had any regrets about what he did on the play.

"I regret that it happened, but I am adamant that I'm not sure at that game speed what I could have done different," he said. "Obviously, in super slo-mo and in hindsight I wish I had one hand on my stick and my hands were way down, but the collision happened fast and Sid's trying to score a goal and he's getting lower and lower as it happens."

Video: Previewing Capitals-Penguins Game 4

Ovechkin also said there was no intent to injure Crosby.

"It's hockey," he said. "As a player, you don't want to hurt someone and you don't want to see somebody on the ice with the doctors. But again, we're focusing on the games. This happens. It's [the media's] job to talk about what happened and we'll move forward. They are. I'm pretty sure they're going to be strong on the puck, they're going to play physical and it's going to be just a game."

Niskanen said if the Penguins seek retribution he'll deal with it.

"It's a hockey game," he said. "Hockey players are emotional guys. If that happens, we'll cross that bridge when it happens."

The Capitals know the Penguins are a formidable opponent; even without Crosby, with forwards Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.

"Obviously, they still have lots of talented players, experienced players," Ovechkin said. "[Sidney is] their captain, their leader and he's the best player in the game and he's a key for their success. So I think Malkin is going to step up pretty big, so we have to play very smart against his line."

But there's no debating that losing Crosby, a Hart Trophy finalist and the Conn Smythe Trophy winner when Pittsburgh won the Stanley Cup last season, creates a significant hole for the Penguins.

"They're still a darn good team, first and foremost," Niskanen said. "We're going to have to be real good to beat them, but he's the best player in the world and he's playing as good as anybody has ever seen him, so [he's] tough to replace for sure."

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