WASHINGTON, D.C. – They are still alive, these Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals, still capable of advancing beyond the second round for the first time in the Alex Ovechkin era, still fighting their history and the endless badgering about such ghosts. They survived Saturday night thanks to goals from Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, 30 saves from Braden Holtby and a lockdown defensive effort in the waning minutes once Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Matt Murray headed to the bench with 3:15 left. They beat the Penguins for the first time in four games 3-1 and now trail 3-2 in the Eastern Conference semifinals with Game 6 lurking on Tuesday at Consol Energy Center.
We’ll have more from the postgame scene at Verizon Center, but for now here are three thoughts:
Power plays come alive
Entering Saturday, the Metropolitan Division rivals had combined for one power play goal in 26 chances during this series, when Capitals forward Marcus Johansson cleaned up on the doorstep during the third period of Game 3 in Pittsburgh. That all changed during a high-flying opening frame when both sides scored via man advantages, though in drastically different ways.
Washington struck first with brute force. Moments after the puck dropped with Bryan Rust shelved for hooking, defenseman John Carlson cranked a deep shot that bounced off Murray and into the slot. An acrobatic hop from Oshie kept possession alive for the Capitals, and Nicklas Backstrom quickly found Ovechkin across the ice. From an almost impossible angle, Ovechkin lowered one knee and drove the puck upward, launching a top-shelf missile that Murray had little chance to stop. Ovechkin’s team-leading fifth goal of the playoffs came one day after it was suggested on national television that, in the event that Washington lost, the team should consider trading its captain for a lack of production in the postseason.
The Penguins, meanwhile, broke through on sheer attrition. Three times they pestered Holtby with bang-bang attempts, including two follow-ups within 15 feet of the Vezina Trophy finalist. The second of those resulted in Chris Kunitz sweeping back Phil Kessel’s rebound for his first goal of these playoffs, while Backstrom watched from the box after committing an ill-advised offensive-zone interference 81 seconds beforehand.
Later, Oshie notched the eventual game-winning goal for his third multi-point outing this postseason, chipping a loose puck in front over the waving stick of Trevor Daley after Ian Cole was whistled for slashing. And so, through 40 minutes, the number of power play tallies in this series leapt from one to four.
Penguins still in the driver’s seat
Despite suffering their first multi-goal loss since Game 2 of the first round, the Penguins will return home still perched in the driver’s seat. They out-attempted Washington 70-58, out-shot their hosts by 12 and out-chanced them by 2, per War-on-Ice.com. They matched the Capitals’ desperate start with a strong first period and forechecked with speed, making life difficult for Washington to exit its zone. Plus, NHL teams that assume 3-1 series leads have historically advanced 90.3 percent of the time, according to WhoWins.com. Of course, the Capitals now sit one victory away from forcing a winner-take-all Game 7 on their home rink.
Capitals turn the tables
Pittsburgh defenseman Brian Dumoulin slammed his stick and stared down at the ice, frustrated with himself after gift-wrapping the Capitals their third goal. Williams’s entry pass had banked too hard off the boards to find Jason Chimera, instead skittering toward Dumoulin, who wheeled inside and looked for an out. With Chimera pressuring Dumoulin from behind, Williams jumped the puck intended for Matt Cullen and slipped his wrist shot through Murray’s 5-hole.
On the bench, fellow Penguins were spotted patting Dumoulin on the back in reassurance, while the building continued cheering Williams’s second goal in three games. It was reminiscent of Washington defenseman Mike Weber’s overtime giveaway that led to Wednesday night’s Game 4 winner by Patric Hornqvist.