We all expected it: the second round series between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals is an intense one. Tied at 2-2 after last night Penguins' win, the now best out of three series is going back to Washington, as their team will remain without enforcer Tom Wilson, who was suspended three games for his jaw-breaking hit on Pens rookie Zach Aston-Reese in Game 3.
But, don't you dare believe the intensity has dropped since Wilson is out of the lineup. On Thursday night, Penguins veteran defenseman Kris Letang was making a play in his own zone while the Capitals were pulling goaltender Braden Hotlby , and while star defender did manage to get the puck away he also paid for it, courtesy of a big hit from Capitals forward T.J. Oshie. Letang was noticably upset after the hit and in this particular instance it seemed he had some justification for his anger as Oshie's hit was less than textbook. The Capitals forward clearly attempted to launch himself at Letang in the corner, and left his feet long before contact was ever made, perhaps an attempt from Oshie to send a message before Game 5.
Letang however was not about to be pushed around and he got right up into the face of Oshie, and in fact effectively blocked him from skating back up the ice and making a play to help his teammates. Meanwhile, as Oshie and Letang gave one another a piece of their minds, Letang's outlet pass resulted in an empty net goal for Penguins forward Jake Guentzel, a dagger in the heart of the Capitals that effectively put an end to Game 4. Oshie and Letang were not done however.
With roughly 50 seconds left on the game clock Letang and Oshie decided to drop the gloves shortly after the goal horn sounded, and it was a short but rather violent affair between the two men. Whether it was because he genuinely stunned Letang with a punch that the Penguins defenseman never saw coming or perhaps because of the fact that Letang was in a bad position and may have been off balance, Oshie dropped the Penguins blue liner with a single punch to the side of the head.
After the game, Letang explained to TVA Sports what happened, and made a statement about Oshie that no one was expecting.
"I asked Oshie if he wanted to go," Letang told reporters after the meeting. "When T.J. noticed that the puck had just entered the net, he accepted my invitation.
"I felt his hit was pretty high," added Letang. I saw him skating and I expected to be hit, but not so high. Oshie is not a dirty player, though. He's a physical player, but he's not a dirty one. There were intense emotions, and things like this often happen at the end of a game."
While Letang was not shy about calling Wilson a dirty player following his hit on teammate Aston-Reese, Letang knows what kind of player Oshie is and it is great to see that despite the rivalry, there is still respect between the two players.