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Sidney Crosby leaves Game 3 loss to Capitals with injury

Penguins center cross-checked by defenseman Matt Niskanen 5:24 into first period

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / NHL.com Staff Writer

Crosby leaves game early

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

R2, Gm3: Sidney Crosby collides awkwardly with Matt Niskanen in front of the net, forcing him to leave the game early in the 1st period

  • 00:43 •

PITTSBURGH -- Center Sidney Crosby left in the first period of the Pittsburgh Penguins' 3-2 overtime loss to the Washington Capitals in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Second Round at PPG Paints Arena on Monday after taking a crosscheck from defenseman Matt Niskanen.

"We don't have any updates on our injured guys," Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. "They will be evaluated overnight and then we'll go from there."

The Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 2-1, with Game 4 here Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

 

[RELATED: Complete Capitals vs. Penguins series coverage | Sidney Crosby's health top priority for Penguins]

 

Crosby was injured 5:24 into the first period. The Penguins captain was cutting across the net when Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin whacked him with his stick and his left knee buckled. Niskanen then cross-checked Crosby in the right side of his head as Crosby was falling to the ice.

Crosby lay face down on the ice, then rolled onto his left side as a trainer attended to him. He was eventually helped to his feet by Hornqvist and Penguins defenseman Ron Hainsey and, while hunched over, skated off slowly and headed to the locker room. He did not return.

Niskanen received a five-minute major penalty for cross-checking and a game misconduct.

"It's a 2-on-1 rush," Niskanen said. "They made a little give-and-go play. I kind of get spinning around. Crosby's taking a puck to the net across the crease there, and a collision is going to happen. It happened fast. I caught him up high with a stick."

Sullivan declined to comment on the play. He also wouldn't comment on whether Crosby's injury was to his upper or lower body. In an on-bench interview during NBCSN's telecast of the game, Sullivan said, "He gets hit in the head. It is what it is. Hopefully, we'll get him back."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Sullivan talks about Penguins' OT loss

Niskanen, who played with Crosby on the Penguins for four seasons before signing with the Capitals as an unrestricted free agent in 2014, said he did not mean to crosscheck him in the head.

"Absolutely not. It wasn't intentional," he said. "I've seen the replay. In super slow-mo, it looks really bad. I caught him high. I think he's coming across trying to score. As he's doing that, he's getting lower and lower, and when it's happening that fast, my stick and his head collided. I wasn't extending trying to hit him in the head. It happened quickly."

Niskanen said the point of contact was higher than intended because Crosby was falling.

"I wasn't even trying to crosscheck him with a serious amount of force," he said. "A collision was going to happen there in the crease. When the play first starts, I think my stick's at about his arm level probably, right about where the numbers are on the side of his jersey. And because he's trying to make a play, he's getting lower and lower because he's getting pressure trying to score."

Penguins forward Chris Kunitz saw the play differently.

"It's obviously gut-wrenching," Kunitz said. "A guy that is the best player in the world playing in his prime, just dominating games, it's one of those things that you look at it once and you see what actually happened and I think the next thing is watching how deliberate it was when the guy crosschecks him in the face.

"I thought all of that was kind of out of this League, but I guess not."

Capitals coach Barry Trotz called the hit a hockey play.

"If you look at it, Sid's coming across and [Capitals goaltender Braden Holtby] throws his stick out there," Trotz said "He sort of gets split and he's coming down and [Niskanen] has to go to the back post because that's where the puck's going and he just sort of ran into him. Unfortunately, Sid got injured there, but I don't know if in that situation you want the guy to throw his hands over his head. It's just hockey and it's a hockey play."

Regardless of each team's opinion on the play, there is no disputing Crosby's importance to the Penguins.

The 29-year-old was named a finalist Monday for the Hart Trophy for the sixth time in his career after leading the NHL with 44 goals and finishing second in the League with 89 points. Crosby won the trophy in 2006-07 and 2013-14.

He won the Conn Smythe Trophy as the most valuable player of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season after helping the Penguins win the Cup for the fourth time in their history and second time in his 12-season NHL career. After getting 19 points (six goals, 13 assists) in 24 playoff games last season, he has 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in eight playoff games this season.

Health issues have also been a significant part of his NHL career. He has missed 167 regular-season games because of injury, including the first six of this season with a concussion he sustained during a preseason practice. He also missed 101 regular-season games between the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons because of concussion-related issues.

With defenseman Kris Letang out for the playoffs after neck surgery and goaltender Matt Murray dealing with a lower-body injury, the Penguins can't afford to lose Crosby for a significant period of time.

"We're hopeful first of all that that won't be the case, but I think this group has so much character and talent that we're able to endure the injuries that we have," Sullivan said. "We've done it all year long. We did it again tonight. And we'll continue to do it."

Penguins right wing Conor Sheary also left Game 3 at 2:24 of the second period after being injured in a collision with teammate Patric Hornqvist.

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