PITTSBURGH – Evgeni Malkin and Alex Ovechkin began the night shaking hands in an effort to show respect for the victims of the Lokomotive plane crash.
After 62 minutes of action the rivalry was alive and well once again. Blood, sweat, excitement and drama — Penguins and Capitals just as we’ve always known it.
Dennis Wideman beat Brent Johnson at 2:48 of overtime to give Washington the 3-2 victory over Pittsburgh on Thursday, but a late-game fight was getting the most media attention in the aftermath.
Trailing 2-1 in the third period, Pittsburgh’s Arron Asham was looking for an opportunity to spark his team to a third period rally. When Washington’s Jay Beagle knocked Kris Letang’s helmet off in a scrum at center ice, Asham took exception.
Looking to stick up for his teammate and spark the home crowd at the same time, Asham took on Beagle in a fight that didn’t end pretty:
[Video removed from source]
Beagle had just two NHL fights on his resume, but hockey purists would argue that he paid the price of going after a star player.
“I wasn’t going in there looking for a fight,” Asham said after the game. “I went in there to tell him to stop running around, you know, what you’re supposed to do [in that situation]. It’s unfortunate he went down the way he did and I wasn’t trying to hurt anyone out there.”
Beagle remained on the ice for a few minutes after absorbing the heavy punches before making his way to the locker room with a face covered in blood and confusion.
After the game, focus immediately shifted to the appropriateness of Asham’s post-fight gestures let loose in the heat of the moment:
[GIF via @TPBAdam]
“I was excited and [the gesture] was uncalled for,” Asham said. “You try to get the crowd into the game and it’s kind of classless on my part, I wish I could take that back.”
Judging from reaction of the hockey world, many agreed that Asham’s taunting gestures were disrespectful and insisted they have no place in the game. But any athlete will tell you adrenaline can be a crazy thing in the midst of a heated battle against a hated rival.
Asham even wondered how much his inappropriate celebration differed from Ovechkin’s ‘Hot Stick’ dance a few years ago against Tampa Bay:
“It’s no different than ‘Ovie’ throwing his stick down and rubbing his hands over it,” Asham said. “It’s a part of the game. I didn’t want to hurt the kid but it’s just the way it happens.”
In a league that allows bare-knuckles brawls to freely take place, it’s hard to argue with a straight face that celebrating after a two-punch knockout is unacceptable. If Asham had simply skated to the penalty box and left Beagle in a heap of blood and broken teeth, would that really be okay?
What’s your call? If taunting your opponent really is ‘part of the game’, where should the line be drawn?
Mike Colligan is the Pittsburgh Penguins correspondent at TheHockeyWriters.com and an NHL analyst at Forbes SportsMoney.