By Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, May 7, 2009
PITTSBURGH, May 6 -- The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins both prepared for Wednesday night's Game 3 not knowing the status of key defenders. The Capitals' rugged John Erskine was unable to play for a second straight game and watched his team's 3-2 loss from the press box.
The Penguins' Kris Letang, who missed the end of Game 2 after a significant collision with Mike Green that left him hunched over behind the bench, was dubbed a game-time decision. But he dressed for the game, was fourth on the team with more than 26 minutes of ice time, and notched the game-winning goal on a misdirected slap shot in overtime.
"That was a medical miracle there," joked fellow defender Brooks Orpik. "Either he was really playing it up or he's really, really tough, I don't know."
Letang, whose injury seemed to involve his left shoulder or arm, said he felt "pretty good" before the game and wasn't bothered by the injury. He also assisted on Ruslan Fedotenko's second-period goal, and called his game-winner the "most important" goal of his career.
"The pass was really right between my legs, it was perfect for a one-timer," said the 22-year-old, who had never before scored in 23 NHL playoff games. "There were a lane and there were only one D in front, so I just tried to put it on net."
Meanwhile, with Erskine out, 28-year-old rookie Tyler Sloan made his second straight appearance for the Capitals, logging more than 20 minutes. Fourth-line forward Eric Fehr, who was injured in Game 2, also was scratched. Fehr was replaced by veteran Michael Nylander, who hadn't played since Game 2 of the first round and didn't see the ice in overtime Wednesday night.
Veteran Sergei Fedorov spent the final seven minutes of the second period on the bench in considerable pain after a collision behind the Pittsburgh net, but returned in the third. Capitals Coach Bruce Boudreau said Fedorov "seemed fine" and would be reevaluated Thursday.
Donald Brashear, still serving a six-game suspension that began in the first round, did not travel to Pittsburgh. Boudreau said the team decided Brashear could get better workouts in the Washington area.Illegal Picks?
Several Penguins raised the possibility following Game 3 that the Capitals were running illegal picks to clear space for Alex Ovechkin, an accusation that seemed to irritate Boudreau.
"I agree that there was a lot of interference, but most of it was done by them," Boudreau said Wednesday morning. "It's so funny, it really is. When we were pre-scouting these guys, one of the things we talked about what how many picks [former Capital] Matt Cooke throws everywhere. I know he's whining about our last goal, but if you look, every faceoff they won, he interfered with our guy going to the net."
"Bruce can banter all he want, I could care less," Cooke responded before Game 3, a day after he had told reporters that "the rules are the rules, it's not a guessing game."
Penguins Coach Dan Bylsma said he has addressed the issue with officials. Meantime, goalie Marc-André Fleury also told reporters in Pittsburgh this week he would not be surprised if the curve on Ovechkin's stick were illegal.
"What can I say?" Ovechkin said. "Nothing."