Friday April 29th, 2016

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Never say T.J. Oshie isn't clutch.

The veteran winger scored three goals, including a controversial tally in overtime, to lead the Washington Capitals to a 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins in the opener of their highly anticipated second-round series on Thursday.

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​Oshie, who was bounced from the St. Louis Blues last summer after a soft playoff performance, provided the equalizer in the second just 33 seconds after Evgeni Malkin had given the Penguins a 2-1 lead, then put the Caps ahead just 3:23 into the third period. 

But his third goal might have been the biggest of his NHL career. Picking up a loose puck deep in the Pittsburgh zone, he beat a stationary Brian Dumoulin, drove around the net and wrapped it past Matt Murray on the short side. The play was ruled a goal on the ice, but required a lengthy video review before it was determined that the puck had fully crossed the goal line.

The win helps the Caps hold serve in what's expected to be a tightly contested series. Game 2 is Saturday night in Washington.

Here are three thoughts on this OT thriller:

Speed racers

Two things we confirmed in the opener: There's not much separating these teams and the defense on both sides better be ready to skate.

For the first 40 minutes, this game was played at a blistering pace, and defenders on both sides were routinely overwhelmed by the speed, the quick transitions and the precision passing. No one came away clean, though it was a particularly rough night for Washington's Dmitry Orlov, who was benched for the third period and OT, and Pittsburgh's Olli Maatta and Dumoulin. Maatta made several mistakes, including a soft turnover in the neutral zone that sprung Oshie for his unassisted second goal.

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The Pens are perceived to have an edge in the speed department, and the line of Nick Bonino, Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin (a combined +31 in shot attempts) clearly set the pace. But the Caps were up to the challenge and actually created more opportunities off the rush.

Even as the pace inevitably slowed later on, the intensity remained high, setting the bar for what should be a spectacular series.

Sid vs. Ovi

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Round one delivered on the hype. Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin were in the starting lineups—nice job by Mike Sullivan and Barry Trotz to feed the beast—and both were quick to make an impression. Ovechkin flattened Trevor Daley with a thunderous hit just seconds after puck drop that kicked off Washington's game-long assault on Pittsburgh's d-men. Moments later, Crosby hit the side of the net with a nasty backhander on a two-on-one.

Neither player lit the lamp, but Ovechkin had the best of the chances, including a pair of partial breaks and a dangerous deflection just seconds into overtime that proved how dialed in Murray was.

Ovi earned an assist on Oshie's second goal, picking up a rebound of his own blocked shot and feeding his linemate, who barreled into the zone and beat Murray with a backhand for a 3-2 lead.

Crosby made his mark with some outstanding work in the corners and in the faceoff circle, where he owned Nicklas Backstrom and won 19 of 28 overall, but he also was on the ice for three goals against.

Give this round to Ovi.

Setting the table

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It wasn't perfect, but the Caps got the result they needed. They got to Murray early and beat him with one softie (Oshie's second) that had to get in his head. At the other end of the ice, they got a terrific performance from Braden Holtby, who responded to his first real test of the postseason by stopping 42 of 45 shots (a .933 save percentage). They dominated the physical game, out-hitting the Pens 43 to 29 to plow the field for later in the series. They silenced Pittsburgh's power play on two chances and while they failed to score on their own opportunities, the momentum gained from a vigorous first period chance led directly to Andre Burakovsky's opening goal. 

One area that needs addressing ahead of Game 2 is the number of opportunities they allowed. The Caps were outshot 17-7 in the second and 13-5 in the third as the Pens capitalized on some solid board work and some soft coverage. That's not a sustainable margin, even when Holtby is at the top of his game.

All in all though, a solid effort from the Caps and one that has them in control of the series.

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