Penguins say Caps' picks littering series
Picking the Penguins to win four of five potential remaining playoff games against the Washington Capitals probably isn't the worst bet in professional sports.
Of course, picking the Penguins might just allow the Capitals to essentially end this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series before it really begins.
"It's tough," Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar said Tuesday of perceived plays involving illegal picks that he and many teammates believe Capitals players have committed through two home victories in the series.
"I thought the league was against it. They called that during the regular season. Unfortunately they aren't doing it now."
No complaint is insignificant in a playoff series, and this Penguins' beef carries some weight — if the plays they question, both involving goals by Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin, indeed were against the rules.
The Penguins tail this series, 2-0, and each loss came by a goal after the teams entered the third period tied.
A pivotal Game 3 is tonight at Mellon Arena. The Penguins have never won a series they trailed, 3-0, but they have claimed seven best-of-seven postseason affairs in which they won Game 3 at home.
To win tonight they need to cap Ovechkin's scoring chances. He is tied with Penguins center Sidney Crosby for the series lead with four goals, and he has been credited with 21 shots on 36 attempts.
"He's the kind of player that, if you give him a little room, he doesn't need too much to get a goal," Penguins defenseman Hal Gill said. "A lot of other players, if you give them room will get off a shot. He'll get a little more. That shot he's got is pretty effective.
"We have to take him out of the play as much as we can."
Trouble is, Penguins such as left wing and prime penalty-killer Matt Cooke say, Ovechkin's teammates are creating free space for him by running interference — a foul according to the NHL's rule No. 56, but one allegedly not assessed enough by referees in this series.
Cooke claims Capitals defenseman Mike Green interfered with Penguins center Jordan Staal on a 5-on-3 power-play goal by Ovechkin in Game 1. Cooke believes he was interfered with on Ovechkin's third-period power-play goal in Game 2 that snapped a tie.
"We've talked to the referees, and I know we showed them tape," Cooke said. "It's a blatant play. I'm nowhere near the puck. (A player) is not allowed to touch me.
"It's a penalty. ... Call the game accordingly. The rules are the rules. It's not a guessing game."
The Capitals are 2-for-7 on the power play in the series, but the Penguins will take their chances on the penalty kill — provided, of course, on-ice officials don't force them to alter their approach by allowing interference.
Staal said the alleged non-calls have hurt the Penguins on faceoffs. They won only 38 percent of draws in Game 2.
"They've got a few (pick) faceoff plays and stuff," he said. "When you have Ovechkin and (Capitals winger Alexander Semin) waiting to fire one from the top of the circle, it's tough to judge what's going to happen."
Staal added that the Penguins simply need to win some draws, though coach Dan Bylsma said the Capitals' penchant for pick-plays significantly alters players' approaches to faceoffs.
"It should; you know there is going to be contact," Bylsma said, later acknowledging that he has addressed the Capitals' would-be interference fouls with referees.
"They talk to us about what they are looking for. They told us (in Game 2) they were looking for that situation and didn't feel it merited a call."
If that trend continues tonight, the Penguins must adjust fast, Gonchar said.
"You have to deal with it, make sure that position-wise you are better and don't give them a chance," he said. "Bring attention to the referees right before. Sometimes those things are obvious, but sometimes they aren't."