Rangers: Niskanen hit that injured Crosby a ‘fluke,’ not malicious

Rangers say no malicious intent on Crosby hit

NEW YORK — Tanner Glass knows collisions happen when an NHL player goes hard to the net. That’s why he calls the high-speed hit which left Pittsburgh Penguins superstar centre Sidney Crosby with a concussion an unavoidable incident.

Crosby was hurt when he was hit in the head by Washington’s Matt Niskanen in Game 3 of their East semifinal on Monday. Glass, who played with Crosby over two seasons in Pittsburgh, said there was no malicious intent on the part of the Capitals defenceman.

“I didn’t see a big issue with the play,” Glass said following the Rangers’ practice at Madison Square Garden Wednesday afternoon following their 4-1 win over Ottawa in Game 3 of their Eastern Conference semifinal.

“As far as what Niskanen did, you see that play all the time. (He has) two hands on his stick when a guy comes towards you, you stiffen up and push back a little bit. Unfortunately he caught him in a bad spot.”

Niskanen was given a major penalty and game misconduct for the hit, but avoided further discipline from the NHL.

“I thought the five-minute major was sufficient,” said Glass. “It’s a tough play. He’s going to the net hard. (Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin) whacks him with the stick hard and I think he was taken off guard a little bit by that, reacted to that and he was kind of going down.”

Rangers defencemen Brady Skjei and Brendan Smith concurred with Glass’ assessment of the play.

“It’s all just reaction. He’s not obviously trying to hurt Crosby in that situation. Crosby’s coming at him and he puts his hands up. It’s a tough play,” Skjei said. “The game’s so fast that at times you just react and stuff happens. It looked like he was just trying to protect himself. It was just a fluke play.”

Was there anything Niskanen could have done differently in that situation?

“It seems like a quick, high-speed play. Obviously you try not to get your hands in somebody’s face, or the stick. Any time that happens you’re probably going to the box. It’s just unfortunate there was an injury from it,” Smith said. “More or less (it’s a) first reaction. Sometimes you brace yourself and that could happen. Sid was down low. Those things happen. That’s the game of hockey.”

The general consensus is that Crosby was in an unexpected position when Niskanen made contact. The play began when Crosby cut towards the net and absorbed a slash to the arm by Ovechkin before being clipped on the side of the head by the Capitals star’s stick. Almost simultaneously, the two stars’ skate blades made contact causing Crosby to fall to his knees as his body contorted oddly while on a high speed, straight line path to Niskanen.

The former Penguin got his arms and stick up, and the collision was inevitable.

Crosby laid prone on the ice for a few minutes before behind helped off the ice. Initially Niskanen was assessed a minor penalty for cross-checking before referees Brad Meier and Brad Watson, and linesmen Pierre Racicot and Matt MacPherson conferred. Moments later, Niskanen was assessed his punishment.

Glass said he felt the decision was sufficient.

The Rangers and Senators resume their series Thursday night in New York, with Ottawa leading 2-1.

Senators coach Guy Boucher said Zack Smith and Bobby Ryan were day-to-day before noting he “did not see” Ryan “not playing” Game 4. Boucher also hinted Tom Pyatt and Chris Wideman could dress Thursday night.

Rick Nash didn’t participate in New York’s practice. Alain Vigneault called it “maintenance,” and added Nash “would be good to go” for Game 4 Thursday night.

Denis P. Gorman, The Canadian Press