- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 10, 2009

As expected, Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Sergei Gonchar missed Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Washington Capitals on Saturday night after a knee-to-knee collision with Alex Ovechkin.

Top Penguins prospect Alex Goligoski was called up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton to replace Gonchar in the lineup. The Penguins dressed seven defensemen, and Goligoski played 9:32.

The injury occurred during the first period of the Penguins’ Game 4 win Friday when he was decked by Ovechkin, a hit that sent Gonchar to the dressing room and generated complaints from some Penguins players.

Ovechkin appeared to be trying to check Gonchar, one of the league’s premier defenders, with his shoulder, but Gonchar turned to avoid the hit and wound up knocking knees with Ovechkin. There was some speculation that Ovechkin might be fined or suspended, but he was not.

“The knee is not the first thing that goes on,” Caps coach Bruce Boudreau said at Saturday’s morning skate. “He’s trying to hit him with his shoulder, and the rest of the your body, you can’t leave it somewhere. It’s got to follow you somewhere. And that’s what happened. He led with his shoulder. Simple.”

Not according to some of the Penguins players. Defenseman Brooks Orpik said after Game 4 that Ovechkin was “trying to hurt guys” and specifically was targeting fellow Russians. Ovechkin, who said he told a couple of Penguins players that the hit was accidental, was amused by the claim.

“I don’t care what he say,” he said, smiling. “It’s a game. It’s Russian, Swedish or somebody else - it doesn’t matter. It’s the playoffs. If he don’t like it, he try to make hit against what Canadian? He’s American? So like he try to hit [Chris Clark]?”

Said forward Brooks Laich: “I watched the video 10 times this morning, and [Ovechkin] goes in there and his right leg is firmly on the ice. Which means he can’t move, he can’t shift it out. And he lunges with the shoulder and tries to hit him, and Gonchar sidesteps the hit. If he just stays in the play and takes the hit, maybe the knee injury doesn’t happen. He tried to bail out on it.”

Without Gonchar, Pittsburgh’s quarterback on the power play, the Penguins struggled again with the extra man in limited opportunities. Evgeni Malkin was credited with a game-winning power-play goal, but it came with one second left after a mostly harmless two minutes.

“He’s not playing, but he’s right there with us,” Sidney Crosby said. “We’d love to have him out there, but I think the best way we can make him feel better is by putting a good, solid effort out there and winning hockey games. If anything, that is one way we can ease his pain.”

New combos

A quick turnaround didn’t keep Boudreau from changing each of his four forward lines for Game 5.

The units: Ovechkin-Nicklas Backstrom-Viktor Kozlov, Alexander Semin-Sergei Fedorov-Laich, Boyd Gordon-David Steckel-Matt Bradley and Tomas Fleischmann-Jay Beagle-Chris Clark.

Only the Backstrom line was able to produce consistent offense - he and Ovechkin combined to score each Washington goal.

Late in the game, Fedorov shifted back to defense and played with Mike Green.

Pittsburgh center Jordan Staal said the Penguins didn’t adjust their plan because the Caps changed things up.

“As long as we play the right way and limit our turnovers because they’re a team that feeds off that, it doesn’t really change our game,” he said.

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