Game 3 between the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins was littered with one horrific moment after the next. You couldn't believe your eyes. You cringed. You recoiled in horror. How was this happening? Just when you thought it couldn't get worse, it somehow found a way to get worse.
And that was just the reaction to people tweeting about the game.
When the dust settles in mid-June and we look back at this postseason, what happened at PPG Paints Arena may be considered the turning point for the Capitals' run to an elusive Stanley Cup. Overtime was extracted from the jaws of victory and the Penguins were one goal away from taking a 3-0 series lead. There would have been no more fitting end to the game—and, by extension, Washington's season—than to blow it in this fashion in Pittsburgh.
Fortunately for the Capitals, Kevin Shattenkirk, who has been infected with Brooks Orpik Disease in this series and, to put it nicely, ineffective in the postseason, had a power-play goal in overtime. What had been looking like the final nail in the Capitals' coffins turned, potentially, into the moment the Capitals finally became President. Or champions. Or winners. The sports equivalent of that thing political pundits do when a bad politician finally does something good or mediocre.
Instead, the game will be remembered for something else: the potentially catastrophic injury to Sidney Crosby.
It happened in a flash. Crosby drove the net hard. Alex Ovechkin skated back just as hard to defend. Ovechkin's skate clipped Crosby's skate. Ovechkin's stick bounced off Crosby's helmet. Crosby lost his balance and fell to a knee. Still traveling at great speed, Crosby glided toward Matt Niskanen. In a split-second reaction, Niskanen raised his hands and stick into the head of Crosby, who absorbed the forceful blow. Crosby was helped to the locker room, presumably with a concussion, and did not return.
To borrow a line from the movie Clue, that's how it could have happened, but how about this?
It happened in a flash. Crosby drove the net hard. Ovechkin, the bad guy wrestler from the foreign land, intentionally kicks out Crosby's skate while delivering a malicious chop to Crosby's head. Wobbled by the nefarious blow, Crosby stumbles into the waiting stick of Niskanen, the traitorous tag-team partner who left the Penguins to complete this coordinated attack on the skull of a former teammate in an effort to swing an unwinnable series. It was a plan discussed at length in secret and brought to fruition in front of the world.
If you believe any part of that second scenario, you are either a hockey novice who doesn't understand the speed of the game and the reflexes that can lead to something like Niskanen driving his stick into Crosby's head, or you are an idiot hell-bent on driving a narrative of premeditated assault that is only believable if you have either an undying love for the player that blinds your ability to be objective or an overwhelming need to bring traffic to your website. The first option is understandable, as hockey is the most fluid full-contact sport in the world and can be difficult for the most well-versed observer to understand; the second one is unacceptable and you should take a deep breath before removing the tin foil hat.
It's unfortunate that Crosby's injury in Game 3 has to be the game-changing, perhaps series-changing, and even franchise-changing moment for the Capitals.
Assuming it's another concussion for Crosby (some people hate speculating about injuries but I love it, especially when teams hide them and leave everyone with no choice), it's a tragedy of epic proportions. Once you get to three reported concussions in your career, it's time to start considering a new line of work, no matter how great you are in that field. One accidental (or villainously choreographed by John Woo) blow to the head, and a career, season, and life may never be the same.
And we haven't even mentioned the loss of Conor Sheary, who had 23 goals but did not finish Game 3 after an accidental collision with teammate Patric Hornqvist. Or was it accidental??? Maybe Hornqvist did it intentionally for reasons we've yet to discern? Or maybe...wait...gasp! Ovechkin hypnotized Hornqvist and, just like when Reggie Jackson tried to kill the Queen in The Naked Gun, programmed Hornqvist to take out Sheary! Someone has to ask the question and light a fire under the NHL to investigate Ovechkin's role in Hornqvist's hit on Sheary.
The Boston Red Sox were down 3-0 in the 2004 ALCS against the New York Yankees and rallied to win the series, and the memories on the way to that eventual championship will never be tainted. There was Dave Roberts stealing second base. There was David Ortiz mashing clutch hit after clutch hit. And then there was Curt Schilling and his bloody sock in Game 6 persevering in such a heroic way that Boston and New England would hail him as a hero for as long as...
...OK, so that last part has been tainted by the years.
But it's not as though Mariano Rivera blew out his elbow at the end of Game 3, or Hideki Matsui tore his ACL in that same game when he collided with Bronson Arroyo or even a lesser player with little defensive range, like Derek Jeter, and suffered some sort of injury that served as a springboard to Boston's world championship.
Game 3 was just like the Crosby injury—you could look at it from two points of view.
It's the game that saw the Capitals finally stare into the abyss and hold up an outstretched middle finger. "Choking dogs? No heart? Oh yeah, well here's a Kevin Shattenkirk overtime goal to cram into your gullet! Not today, Satan! No, not you, Miroslav. I mean Satan. The devil. Sorry for the confusion."
Or it's the game that was only made possible by an injury to the best player on the planet, no matter how you view the cause of that injury. That sucks, because when you climb the mountain, you want to beat the best along the way. Maybe that was never possible with Kris Letang unavailable for this series, but the circumstances around what could be the biggest win in franchise history, to say the least, suck.
Nothing would be better than for the Penguins on Tuesday to announce that Crosby is perfectly healthy. "Tests were run and it turns out everything is fine." It will allow Niskanen and Ovechkin to rest easy, as they won't have to worry about Pittsburgh police coming to their hotel to arrest them. Most importantly, it means Crosby isn't dealing with another brain injury.
But if Game 3 goes down as the one that saw Crosby's season end, it will follow the Capitals for as long as they are in the playoffs, and long after that if they go on to win the Stanley Cup as the result of it.
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