crosbyPenguins superstar Sidney Crosby, who has a history of concussion problems, was leveled Monday night by two Capitals players — started by Alex Ovechkin and finished by Minnesota native and former Pittsburgh teammate Matt Niskanen — and had to leave the game in an eventual 3-2 overtime Capitals victory.

On the play, Crosby is driving to the net and being trailed by Ovechkin — who gives him a couple whacks with his stick, including one that looks to glance off the back of his head, along with skate-to-skate contact that forces Crosby off-balance. As Crosby staggers across the crease, he’s encountered by Niskanen, who cross-checks him in the head/face.

That description seems pretty cut-and-dried, right? It was a dirty play by the desperate Capitals, who entered the game down 2-0 in the series to their rivals.

After the game, Niskanen said there was no injury intent and that Crosby getting “lower and lower” as he approached him created the hit to the head. “I hope he’s OK. I certainly didn’t mean to injure him,” Niskanen said. “It was an unfortunate play.”

I’ve watched the slow-motion replay a dozen times now (at least) and I still can’t decide for sure whether Niskanen intentionally went for Crosby’s head or if the hit would have landed more in the chest or shoulder area if Crosby wasn’t falling a little.

The combination of all the factors, though — from Washington’s desperation, to the Capitals’ knowledge of Crosby’s impact and injury history to Ovechkin’s ploys to knock Crosby off-balance and finally to Niskanen’s shot to the head — can lead you to conclude it was a dirty play of the worst kind: one designed to knock out a star player and influence the outcome of a game/series.

But don’t just take my word for it. Here is the video:

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