PITTSBURGH — Just about everyone has had to wait for the test results to come back from the medical lab.
Many among us filled the wait thinking about the worst possible outcomes: What’s life like if it’s really bad news?
Don’t think that the really bad news home fans were dreading was a defeat.
Yeah, Game 6 was 60 one-sided minutes of hockey and the local heroes lost to the Capitals by the deceptively close score of 5-2, which sends the teams back to Washington for a seventh and deciding game. Disappointment? Sure. The Penguins had led this series 3-1 and also held a one-goal lead going into the third period of Game 5. Since then, it has been all Washington, perhaps not entirely unexpected given that the Capitals rolled to the Presidents’ Trophy during the season.
And as bad as all that was, Pittsburgh fans, players and management can take the not-altogether hollow consolation that it could have been worse. Hard to imagine when the home team generated but one (real) shot on net in the first period and really nary a legit scoring chance in the nine shots the Pens were credited with through 40 minutes.
The relatively good news is that the Penguins got out of the game with the franchise intact. The franchise of course being Sidney Crosby, the captain, the Hart Trophy finalist, and all the rest.
It looked bad five minutes into the first period when Crosby was chasing a puck behind the Capitals net and he got tangled up with Matt Niskanen. If you’ve been following this series then you already know that the blackhearted defenceman got in a cross-check upside the franchise’s head in Game 3 and left him in a pile on the ice.
And you already know that Niskanen managed to escape suspension and Crosby missed the balance of Game 3 and all of Game 4 with what was billed as a concussion.
So when Crosby’s head snapped back after being hit with an errant stick it looked bad as bad can be. Crosby was clearly stunned and made his way up to his feet and off the ice very slowly. On the bench he was in obvious distress and the PPG Paints Arena turned into the world’s largest waiting room, 18,000-plus waiting to see if Crosby would take that long walk down to the dressing room for examination by the medical staff. He did not. A collective sigh of relief.
It looked far worse, though a few minutes later when Crosby skated straight up the middle of the ice to chase a puck that went behind the Washington net. This time his left skate appeared to clip the post as he cut through the crease and Washington defenceman John Carlson appeared to lean lightly on the 8 and the 7. Crosby’s linemate Patric Hornqvist appeared to brush Carlson just enough that all three crashed into the boards, landing in a pile. This time Crosby was even slower to get back up and to the bench.
Crosby stayed in the game but his frustration was plain. At different points he seemed to boil over. He jousted with Jay Beagle for what seemed like an entire shift. He even gave defenceman Dmitry Orlov a forceful facewash, a jab Julio Cesar Chavez Jr. could have found useful Saturday night, but I digress. These were the highlights of Crosby’s game until he picked up an assist on Jake Guentzel‘s goal with less than four minutes left to snap Braden Holtby’s shutout. And if you were looking for anything else positive from Crosby’s game, then perhaps it would be his ice time: He rolled out there three ticks short of 20 minutes, not missing a shift, even when Washington ran out to a 5-0 lead in the third period.
Crosby was OK if you interpret that as good enough to play. OKish, maybe. Certainly not playing at the level he did during the regular season, not remotely like he did in Pittsburgh’s wins in Games 1 and 2 in Washington. The prognosis for a full recovery: well, if it’s not by 7:30 p.m. ET Wednesday night, he’ll have until the fall.
The Penguins as a team are looking far worse than he is though. For the last four periods in this series, the Capitals have owned all of the play. In fact, even in Game 4, the Pens’ 3-2 win sans Sid, Washington just came at the defending Stanley Cup champions in waves. Caps coach Barry Trotz pushed all the right buttons in this series after the Game 4 loss. He shuffled Alex Ovechkin off the first line and threw out young Andre Burakovsky to skate beside Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie — the Penguins had no answer for the line Monday night, Burakovsky getting a pair of goals, Backstrom getting a goal and an assist and Oshie getting a power-play goal to open the scoring. Oshie’s goal came with Crosby watching from the penalty box, off for hooking the ever-irritating Tom Wilson.
After the game, Penguins coach Mike Sullivan was asked if he was concerned about the health of his star.
“No,” he said and nothing more.
If Sullivan’s on the square with that, he would have been alone in that opinion in waiting room.