PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh defenceman Sergei Gonchar has an undisclosed injury that occurred when he was levelled Friday night by a knee-to-knee hit from Capitals star Alex Ovechkin that several Penguins players called a dirty play.
The Penguins revealed no details afterward about the injury, but several of their players believe Ovechkin went out of his way to attempt to hurt his former Russian Olympic teammate.
Ovechkin denied that, but also said he is uncertain if he will be fined or suspended. A suspension seems unlikely because Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series is Saturday night.
As Gonchar was skating out from behind the Pittsburgh net during a Washington power play in the first period, Ovechkin appeared to stick out his right knee a moment before the two collided. Gonchar spent about a minute unsuccessfully trying to get up before play was stopped in the Capitals’ end.
As Gonchar was assisted off the ice, unable to put any weight on his right leg, Ovechkin was given a minor minute penalty for kneeing.
“It’s kind of the same thing he (Ovechkin) did with me last game,” Penguins defenceman Brooks Orpik said. “I mean, you can run guys, guys are fair game, but the guy takes strides every time and leaves his feet a lot of times, too. To us, we got the feeling he’s really trying to hurt guys at times.”
About 10 minutes before he was injured, Gonchar scored the first of the three consecutive goals that gave Pittsburgh a 3-1 lead. The Penguins went on to win 5-3.
“I just tried to move him and I hit him, he turned to move to his left and, I don’t know, I don’t have time to realize what’s going on and he hit my knee,” Ovechkin said. “I think it was an accident. I’m not the kind of player who wants to injure guys, especially ones I know like Gonch.”
Ovechkin, the NHL’s leading scorer and MVP during the 2007-08 season, could be seen after the game explaining his side of the play to Penguins star Evgeni Malkin’s father. Malkin, Ovechkin and Gonchar played on Russia’s 2006 Olympic team.
“I was disappointed, too,” Ovechkin said. “I don’t want him to get hurt, Gonch, but it’s a game and it happens.”
Gonchar, who played for Washington from 1994-2004 and is annually one of the leading scorers among NHL defencemen, missed three-quarters of the regular season with a shoulder injury that occurred during the pre-season.
The Penguins didn’t begin their late-season surge that carried them into the playoffs until Gonchar returned.
“We missed Gonch for a long time, we were forced to play guys in a couple of different positions, and now we’ve got to use that experience and find a way to still be productive without him,” Penguins captain Sidney Crosby said. “There’s no choice right now.”