WASHINGTON, DC - FEBRUARY 06: Alex Ovechkin #8 and Nicklas Backstrom #19 of the Washington Capitals rough it up with Matt Cooke #24 of the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Verizon Center on February 6, 2011 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
The Penguins entered Sunday afternoon's game against the Capitals without their two biggest stars -- Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
By the end of the game, the Caps almost were without theirs.
Mike Green left the game bloodied after taking a puck to the side of the head, and Alex Ovechkin narrowly avoided a serious injury when he was tripped by super-pest Matt Cooke in what looked like a possible kneeing incident.
Despite that, the Caps emerged with a commanding 3-0 win against their bitter rivals at the Verizon Center.
Even without Crosby and Malkin and Semin and Green, there was still plenty of bad blood to go around.
Cooke's hit on Ovechkin came with just under four minutes to go in the game. Ovi tried to skate with the puck out of his own end, but when he cut toward the middle to avoid Cooke, the Pens' winger looked like he stuck out his knee and made contact, sending No. 8 to the ice in pain. A scrum ensued and Ovi and Nicklas Backstrom converged on Cooke, who acted like he had no idea what the big deal was.
"It's Matt Cooke, need we say more?" a frustrated Bruce Boudreau said after the game. "It's not like it's his first rodeo. Then he goes to the ref and says, 'What did I do?' He knows damn well what he did. There's no doubt in my mind. He's good at it, and he knows how to do it. We as a league still buy into this that, 'Oh, it's an accidental thing.'"
Despite his pleas to the refs, Cooke was given a two-minute penalty for tripping (not a five-minute major for kneeing) and Ovechkin gingerly skated in front of his own bench in pain. The Caps' captain, however, returned later in the game.
As for Green, he could be seen in the locker room after the game with numerous stitches near his right ear, but it appeared that he was lucky in terms of what the severity of the injury could have been.
Green left the game at the end of the first after taking a Brooks Orpik slap shot to the side of the head.
Orpik blasted a shot from the point off a faceoff. Green was standing in front of his goalie and turned his head at the last moment as the puck made impact near his ear. Green was down on the ice as the final few seconds ticked off the clock and was eventually helped off the ice. He left behind a pool of blood that was scooped up before the Zambonis resurfaced the ice.
"He's got a little bit of a headache right now, but if you get hit in the head with a puck you're going to have a headache," Boudreau said.
The Caps didn't miss a beat without Green on the ice. They built off Brooks Laich's first-period goal in the second thanks to some solid shorthanded work by the penalty-killing unit.
Marcus Johansson made it 2-0 with a shorty four minutes into the period. He picked up a loose puck at his own blue line, skated into the Pens' zone, used defenseman Kris Letang as a screen and sent a backhander on net. The puck breezed past Marc-Andre Fleury high stick-side for the goal.
Mike Knuble added an empty-net goal late in the third, and Michal Neuvirth stopped all 22 shots for the win. It was his first action since Jan. 18.
The game was the first between the teams since the Winter Classic, and there were still some scores the Pens apparently wanted to settle.
Tim Wallace and Dave Steckel dropped the gloves after a faceoff with 12 minutes left in the game. Was it retribution for Steckel's hit on Sidney Crosby in the Winter Classic? Perhaps. The two traded swings for more than a minute, with Wallace getting a few more in. No major blows, however, and no concussions.
After the game, Boudreau wasn't necessarily pleased with how that fight went down.
"He didn't hit him intentionally," Boudreau said. "I've coached him eight years now and he's never done it once. If they want to use it as a motivating tool, go ahead."
Boudreau especially wasn't happy with Tim Wallace, who was just called up from the minors and didn't play in the Winter Classic, being the one who challenged Steckel. Boudreau expected something from the likes of a Mike Rupp. But that didn't happen.
"To me," Boudreau said, "it was crap."