Penguins star Kris Letang suspended for Game 4

Kris Letang talks about his hit on Marcus Johansson in Game 3. Courtesy: CSN-MA

The Pittsburgh Penguins have lost one their best players for a critical Game 4.

Star defenceman Kris Letang was suspended one game Tuesday by the NHL’s department of player safety for interference on Washington Capitals forward Marcus Johansson.

Johansson had the puck coming through the neutral zone late in the first period of Game 3 Monday but passed the puck off after being pressured by a pair of Penguins. Letang pinched moments later and made contact with a vulnerable Johansson, who hit the ice hard.

Johansson stayed down for several seconds before going off the ice on his own.

“Things happen fast. It was just a step up to hit him,” Letang told reporters. “I’m glad he was OK. He finished the game and was pretty physical on me afterwards. I was happy he was not injured.”

Johansson returned to the game in the second period but was held out of practice Tuesday with an upper-body injury, raising eyebrows. Injury is a consideration in suspension length.

Letang received a minor penalty for interference on the play.

Capitals defenceman Brooks Orpik was suspended three games for a late hit to the head of Pittsburgh defenceman Olli Maatta in Game 2, after which Washington coach Barry Trotz raised the issue of league favourtism towards the Penguins.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan described the Letang hit as simply “a body check,” but Johansson said he believes Letang’s suspension should equal Orpik’s.

Letang leads all Pittsburgh defencemen with seven post-season points and is averaging a team-high 29:13 in ice time per game.

The Penguins lead the series 2-1. Game 4 goes Wednesday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.

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