2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs Round 2 Game 4: Alex’s Restaurant Massacree

In 1967, Arlo Guthrie recorded Alice’s Restaurant Massacree [sic], a “song”/story in two parts: part one is about Guthrie’s arrest in Stockbridge, MA for littering, and part two is about how that arrest affected his draft status for the Vietnam War.  Two years earlier, Guthrie had visited “Alice’s restaurant” for Thanksgiving Eve dinner (in reality, “Alice’s restaurant” was the converted church-home his friend Alice and her friend Ray lived in) and out of appreciation for the meal Guthrie and one of his friends took the trash from their home and attempted to dispose of it, only to end up dumping it illegally in a ravine.  Guthrie was called by the Stockbridge police department after finding an envelope with Ray’s name on it, and Guthrie turned himself in to the police department.  There were two possibilities Guthrie had concluded for what was to be done with him:

  1. that the police would “give [Guthrie and his friend] a medal for being so brave and honest on the telephone, which wasn’t very likely”, or
  2. that the police would reprimand Guthrie and advise him “never to be seen driving garbage around the vicinity again”.

But there was the third possibility that Guthrie didn’t expect and that was to be arrested, and ultimately Guthrie and his friend were each fined $25 for littering and were ordered to clean up the garbage.

Now, I bring this up not only to save you from having to listen to that song, but also because I believed there were two possibilities about the Capitals’ game-plan for Game 3:

  1. that they would continue to play as they had in Games 1 and 2, outshooting the Penguins and generally controlling play, which clearly wasn’t working, or
  2. that they would change their tactics a little bit and maybe that small tweaking would give them the edge they needed.

But as we saw, there was a third possibility that we didn’t expect and that was to injure Sidney Crosby and Conor Sheary.

Mind you, I’m not saying that I believe the Capitals intended to injure either of them.  However, the Capitals were in a desperate situation heading into Game 3.  They’d lost the first two games at home despite outplaying the Penguins, really throwing everything they could at Marc-Andre Fleury and it wasn’t getting them anywhere.  It was clear that they could not keep up with Pittsburgh with all things being equal, so they did what they could to tip the scales.  By taking Crosby and Sheary out of the game, and with a little a lot of help from the referees, they were able to escape Game 3 with a 3-2 OT win.  (Maybe they did intend to injure Crosby.  We’ll never know for sure.)  I do believe 100% that Ovechkin was trying to slash Crosby up high (which the refs missed calling a penalty on) and that Niskanen was going to take Crosby out after his transit through the slot.

The NHL has put itself into a really indefensible position with the Crosby incident.  They insist that the players should know the consequences of playing hockey, like it’s their fault for being concussed, and that really fits into the narrative of what happened Monday night.  By their expectations, when Alex Ovechkin slashed Crosby in the head and shoulders (and tried to trip him with a slew foot), Crosby should have just hit the ice.  It was Crosby’s fault for trying to stay in the play (like an elite athlete would), and it was hardly Matt Niskanen’s fault that Niskanen walloped him in the face.  Once the referees convened, they completely ignored what Ovechkin had done and punished Niskanen for holding the smoking gun; I’m pretty sure ejecting Niskanen was the refs’ attempt at making up for not calling anything on Ovechkin.  Furthermore, Niskanen and Ovechkin will get away with no further discipline, while it is entirely possible that Crosby could miss the rest of this series and/or the playoffs.

NBC chimed in with the fact that since Niskanen turned his head it shows he didn’t mean it. I have a gun to this guys head. I turn my head to look away but still pull the trigger. The guy is dead but at least I didn’t mean it.

Game 3 was an emotional roller-coaster.  By the time the Penguins tied the game 2-2 in the closing minutes of the third, Penguins fans everywhere had gone from absolute outrage to despondence to jubilation and finally to disappointment, but in the grand scheme of things there’s a lot of positivity to take away from their performance.  That they were able to hang in, keep the game close, then tie it late on two goals with the net empty (which I haven’t seen the Penguins pull off since…last year?) was a truly gutsy effort.  That the game was so close despite Crosby and Sheary (and Kris Letang and Matt Murray) being out of the game means that Pittsburgh has almost everything they need to beat the Capitals in this series without them.  Almost everything.

Washington will play Game 4 with still a lot of desperation and pressure, and it’s entirely possible that they will go out of their way in subtle or obvious ways to take Pittsburgh out of the game.  I wouldn’t anticipate Mike Sullivan telling his players to do anything different for Game 4.  The biggest problem I see for Pittsburgh is that they played their best game of the playoffs and lost.  That’s really been the story of this series so far: the team that plays best loses.  They had to put in a complete team effort but they were just unable to get the win.  The pressure had already been on them to push harder with Murray and Letang out of the lineup, and with Crosby and Sheary out for Game 4, they’ll have to push that much harder.  And if they have to continue pushing through the rest of the series, they’ll either have a hard-fought series win or or they’ll be out of gas by the end and fail.

All emotions aside, Game 4 represents a critical turning point for both the Capitals and the Penguins.  For the Capitals, it’s a chance to even this series back up, regain home-ice advantage, and head back to Washington for a best-of-three.  For Pittsburgh, they can push the Capitals closer to the brink of elimination with a 3-1 series lead.  The worst-case scenario for the Capitals is that they’ll have to play another game like Games 1 and 2 where they throw everything they have at the Penguins and they still lose.  They either have to establish an early lead or injure another crucial Penguin, because the crowd will be at full throat for blood and victory all night long if they don’t.  Without Crosby and Sheary, the Penguins will need all the support they can get.

There are people online saying the Penguins should dress Tom Sestito. These people would serve society better if they went and chewed on rocks all day. Adding Tom Sestito to this lineup achieves nothing. When he played in the regular season Sestito averaged 4 minutes a game. The team just played a game with 10 forwards, the last thing they need is to have to pick up slack from an inadequate active player. Secondly, Sestito is who these fans turn to in their minds to rough up and fight the opponent, but the dirty not so secret is Tom Sestito kind of sucks at fighting. In the absence of Crosby or Sheary or really anyone the Penguins need to do what they’ve done all year. Go to the Black Aces and call up the next speedy mother fucker that the Capitals can’t catch like they did with Jake Guentzel. If you don’t think that will work then you most likely don’t remember how Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary really proved themselves last year… it was in the playoffs… when they were “too inexperienced” to make an impact.

I don’t anticipate the Capitals to make any changes except they will probably attempt more point shots on the powerplay now instead of feeding Ovechkin. If I’m the Penguins I throw everything on Holtby. He has had a shaky series and now he knows that he can’t even hold a 2 goal lead when his team needs it. Jumping out to an early lead without your best player is what the Penguins will be going for, they will come out furious in the first period.

Losing Sidney Crosby is a huge blow for the Penguins. Some Washington fans have probably continued jerking it since the injury. What they don’t realize is you just gave 18 guys on the other team that have already bested you twice out of three a burning desire to do nothing more but destroy you. The Paint Can will be rocking. The Penguins will be rocking. You better get ready, because tonight is going to be something else.