New York Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi said Alex Ovechkin made contact with his head when the Washington Capitals’ star leaped to deliver an open-ice hit in Saturday’s 3-2 victory.
Ovechkin was assessed a minor penalty for charging on the play, which occurred midway through the second period. Girardi was not injured.
“I think he hit my head a bit there,” Girardi said after the game Saturday. “I think it was the right call. I’m not sure what it was, if it was charging, interference or whatever. But the head’s kinda there and he hits it.
“I think he’s just playing the game hard but I don’t know,” Girardi added. “He hit me in the head first.”
Ovechkin disagreed with Girardi’s assessment, saying he only made contact with the defenseman’s shoulder.
“In the head? No,” said Ovechkin, who appeared surprised that the questioned was posed. “I think it was the shoulder.”
On the play, Ovechkin was cutting through the offensive zone when he attempted to control a puck that was turned over by Girardi by kicking it to his stick. Ovechkin missed the puck with his skate, then appeared to realize that he was about to collide — at a rather high rate of speed — with the Rangers’ rugged blue-liner.
Ovechkin then appeared to decide to be the hitter rather than the recipient of the blow. As he neared Girardi, who braced himself, Ovechkin’s skates left the ice.
It was unclear whether NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan planned to review the hit or was considering supplemental discipline, which can range from a warning to a $2,500 fine or suspension. In January, Shanahan banned Ovechkin for three games after ruling the Capitals’ captain “launched” himself and hit Pittsburgh defenseman Zbynek Michalek in the head along the boards.
The question, if Shanahan reviews the hit, is not whether Ovechkin left his skates; he did. It’s where Ovechkin’s shoulder struck Girardi, who was knocked down and momentarily held his head in his hands.
Replays appear to show that the primary point of contact was Girardi’s shoulder.
“I just missed the puck,” Ovechkin said. “I tried to kick the puck and I saw he was coming, so I just got to protect myself.”
Girardi said he was not hurt.
“He’s a big guy and hits hard, but I feel good,” he said.
Told Ovechkin said he was protecting himself, Girardi responded, “I’m not even going to get into that.”
Rangers defenseman Marc Staal added: “I thought he jumped when I saw it on replay. Yeah, I mean, things happen fast, but it looked to me like he left his feet and was targeting his head. That’s up to them.”
Capitals Coach Dale Hunter said it was “incidental contact.”
“I didn’t see the replay on it yet, but it was, you know, I think both of them were surprised they hit each other,” Hunter said. “It was incidental contact where both of them were looking down and they hit each other.”
Ovechkin, the Capitals’ leading scorer in the playoffs with four goals and three assists, has been suspended three times and fined twice in his seven-season NHL career.
Asked whether he feels Ovechkin should receive further punishment, Girardi said: “I’m not the judge of that. You guys can make your comments about that. They called a penalty on it, that’s all I know.”