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The Morning Narrative: Redemption, Blown Lead(s) and The Hit

Three things we’re talking about this morning when we’re talking about the Caps

Washington Capitals v Pittsburgh Penguins - Game Three Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

1. You want narratives? We’ve got ‘em!

There’s nothing the narrative-consuming public eats up more readily than tales of redemption. Be it politics, celebrity or sport, the once-mighty-now-fallen clawing their way back to the top moves product, and the Caps really had three such dramas-within-the-drama last night. First up, Evgeny Kuznetsov, who took two bad offensive-zone penalties in the second period and chunked a layup that would’ve pushed the Caps’ lead to 2-0:

But the intrepid Kuznetsov kept at it, and when he had another golden opportunity to double the Washington margin, he didn’t panic... or fail to convert:

Kuznetsov’s line, along with Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson, was terrific in the third period, and it was Johansson who drew the penalty that led to... well, we’ll get there.

Redemption Number Two came in net, where Braden Holtby bounced back from getting pulled from Game 2 (and being not-Braden-Holtby) in Game 1 to stifling the Pens over the first 58 minutes of hockey and, well, doing Braden Holtby things:

Oh, and it’s always nice to have friends like Daniel Winnik around:

Holtby was pierced twice during the Penguins’ goalie-pulled push in the final two minutes of the game, but his Game 3 performance (the first time in these playoffs he was perfect at five-on-five, and he stopped all ten power-play shots he faced) was a big confidence-restorer, no doubt for him, his teammates and the fan base. Maybe just maybe the Pens haven’t quite figured him out after all:

Finally, the most maligned Cap so far in the playoffs has been Kevin Shattenkirk, whom Barry Trotz called out after Game 2. And Game 3 looked like more of the same from the big-ticket deadline acquisition:

(That may not have been Shattenkirk’s fault, but it was symbolic of how he’d played since Game 2 of the Toronto series, so go with it.)

Then, in overtime, this happened:

And so this is, once again, a series, thanks in no small part to the redemption of three key players. That, my friends, is the narrative good stuff.

2. Of course, Shattenkirk doesn’t get that chance if not for the Caps blowing a two-goal lead in the last two minutes of regulation. How improbable was that Pittsburgh comeback?

Oh. As we noted at the time:

Credit the Caps with rebounding from that to carry play and get the win in overtime, but if Phil Kessel’s wrister two minutes before Shattenkirk’s goal doesn’t go a couple of inches wide, the end of Game 3 would’ve gone down in Caps’ history, with so many other soul-crushing moments.

But it didn’t. And, frankly, that flips the script a bit on that tragic history (hey, this is The Narrative):

3. Okay, let’s talk about the elephant in the room. First, let’s be clear that no one likes to see something like this happen, and we all wish Sidney Crosby a full and speedy recovery - the game and the games are better with him on the ice.

Alright, here we go.

Matt Niskanen got a major and a game misconduct for his hit at the tail-end of this sequence, Alex Ovechkin, for his part, was unpenalized (though if not for the Niskanen penalty, likely would’ve gotten a slashing minor, you’d think... not sure why the second event negated the first, but, hey, NHL officiating).

Was the call correct? Was Niskanen’s cross-check malicious or reactionary? (Spoiler: only Matt Niskanen knows, and credit to him for facing the media post-game.) Was it just “a hockey play” with an unfortunate result?

No one cares what I think about any of these questions, and they shouldn’t - I’m a Caps fan and I’m going to view this Rorschach test differently than a Pens fan will. In a perfect world, fans of the teams involved in controversial hits shouldn’t even weigh in on the hits for that reason. So, that said, let’s see what some ostensibly impartial third party observers had to say:

Nick Cotsonika, NHL.com

There are, of course, other opinions on the hit, including plenty from both teams that are every bit as predictable as you’d expect... and some from credentialed media members that are borderline (borderline?) insane:

That makes “Ovechkin was trying to hit Hainsey in the head with a wrist shot” look like FOX News or MSNBC compared to this Infowars-level stuff. Rossi even had his moment in the sun with Barry Trotz, post-game, but Barry was having none of it:

But that’s certainly not representative of the Pittsburgh media, so let’s be careful not to paint with too broad a brush here.

Anyway, the Caps caught a break by deciding to dress seven defensemen, and managed to eke out a must-win against a team reeling from losing the best player in the world (as well as another skill forward felled by friendly fire) and already without their Norris-caliber defenseman and (presumably) number one goalie.

As for Niskanen...

Game 4 should be interesting... and won’t lack for narratives.