Capitals Notebook

Wearing Knee Brace, Gonchar Returns to Penguins' Starting Lineup

The Capitals' season ends with a thud as Pittsburgh blitzes Washington, 6-2, to win Game 7 at Verizon Center and advance to the Eastern Conference finals.
By Tarik El-Bashir and Dan Steinberg
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 14, 2009

Three games after suffering a knee injury, Sergei Gonchar, the Pittsburgh Penguins' best defenseman, was in the lineup for Game 7 last night.

He conceded after the Penguins' 6-2 victory over the Washington Capitals that he wasn't 100 percent. But the veteran was well enough to register an assist on the game's first goal and skate 15 minutes 6 seconds.

Gonchar was injured when he was hit knee-on-knee with Capitals star Alex Ovechkin in the first period of Game 4. He had to be helped off the ice following the controversial hit, leading to speculation that he could be sidelined for a significant length of time.

Ovechkin said he offered Gonchar an apology in the handshake line after the game. The Capitals star could be seen gesturing as he attempted to explain himself.

"I just tell him I don't want to hit him and I just said sorry," Ovechkin said. "I just explained to him what happened. We have good relations.

"I don't want to hit guys to get them injured.

Asked if Gonchar accepted his apology, Ovechkin said: "Probably, I don't know. We just shake hands."

Gonchar, who played with a brace on his right knee, added: "He said there was no chance he was able to avoid that hit."

Gonchar returned to practice on Monday and took the morning skate. But it wasn't a sure thing that he would return to the lineup until after the pregame warmup.

When the starting lineups were announced, Gonchar was on the Penguins' blueline.

"Obviously I wasn't 100 percent," Gonchar said. "But it was Game 7. You have to play. I'm sure everyone would have done it."

Not including the game in which he was injured, Gonchar's ice time was his lowest total -- by far -- in the playoffs. But he wasn't limited to only power-play time. In fact, he skated 10:10 at even strength.

Gonchar's assist on Sidney Crosby's first period goal gave him 10 points in 11 playoff games and put him in a tie with Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom for the league lead among defensemen in scoring.

The Capitals are 6-2 in elimination games under Coach Bruce Boudreau. Last night's game was the first all season, regular or playoffs, in which the Capitals did not have a single power play.

Crowded Press Box

The media contingent last night was larger than for any Capitals game since the 1998 Stanley Cup finals. Team officials said they could have filled a press box twice as big as their 111-seat space. The crowd also included at least a dozen members of the European press, hailing from Sweden, Russia, Finland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia. . . .

Entering last night, 14 of the previous 16 playoff games between these two franchises had been decided by a goal, with six of those games going to overtime. The Capitals have played more playoff overtime periods against Pittsburgh than against any other team. After Game 6, the teams had combined to play in 10 overtime periods over seven series. . . .

The Penguins got their second goal from winger Craig Adams, a 32-year-old journeyman who had never scored a playoff goal in eight NHL seasons. In 57 regular season and playoff games this year, Adams had scored just twice. . . .

Redskins Coach Jim Zorn and quarterback Jason Campbell were both in the crowd. Zorn also attended the Game 2 win.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company