Penguins-Capitals Game 2: Washington ties series after replay controversy ends in Caps’ favor
Washington Capitals 4, Pittsburgh Penguins 1
Series: Tied 1-1
3 p.m. ET, Capital One Arena
• Capitals get relief, Game 2 win as they level series at 1-1. (Read more)
• Top takeaways: The Caps let the past die and grabbed new life in this series. (Read more)
• The Capitals needed a win in Game 2 and jumped all over the Penguins early. Washington took a two-goal lead into the second period and needed only 2 minutes and 10 seconds to make it 3-0 on a breakaway goal by Brett Connolly. A long-range wrist shot by Kris Letang through traffic found its way past Braden Holtby to give Pittsburgh a spark late in the second and make the score 3-1 heading into the third period, but the Penguins got no closer. (Read more)
• The Capitals’ defense has evolved from the start of the season. (Read more)
Capitals strike first, stand tall to even series at 1-1
by Isabelle Khurshudyan
Amid the cheers, the whipping towels and dinging cowbells at Capital One Arena, there was also an exhale. Washington Capitals forward Brett Connolly scored on a partial breakaway, and the sight of the puck in the net and a red goal light brought both joy and relief. Washington wouldn’t be squandering a two-goal lead, because the team now was up three.
The Capitals ultimately won by that margin, 4-1, and with the next two games in Pittsburgh, Washington has tied the second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Penguins at one game apiece, in large part thanks to goaltender Braden Holtby’s 32 saves and some good fortune with video reviews. Most importantly, the Capitals continued to build on their lead rather than cling to it.
“You can see what happen last game when we get the lead 2-0, and they come back and win the game,” captain Alex Ovechkin said. “They’re experienced team.
“They’re not going to give up and they’re not going to give easy play for us. We have to earn it. Today I think we play a solid game. Everybody was in, and we get the result.”
[Svrluga: With a bit of luck — and a lot of Braden Holtby — the Capitals tie up the series]
After 20 minutes, the Capitals found themselves in a familiar, uneasy position. For the second straight game, Washington was up 2-0, but the team had squandered that kind of cushion three times in its previous seven playoff games, including Game 1 against the Penguins.
The postseason had been miserable for Connolly a year ago. He played in just seven games, a healthy scratch for the other six as Washington opted to play seven defensemen with 11 forwards. When Connolly did play, his ice time was limited. This playoff run has taken an opposite arc. He has gotten more responsibility with a promotion to the third line. He had been unable to convert on numerous chances in past games, but with the partial breakaway in the second period Sunday he didn’t miss, and his wrist shot lifted the Capitals to a 3-0 lead 2:08 into the second period.
“Even when we go up three, you’ve got to keep playing against this team because they can hurt you in a lot of different ways,” Connolly said.
Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang scored roughly 11 minutes later with a point shot while Holtby had two layers of screens in front of him. The Penguins seemed to score again midway through the third period, when Patric Hornqvist jammed in a wraparound attempt by Sidney Crosby. But the officials didn’t call it a goal on the ice, and a long video review followed. Holtby had stopped the puck with his pad, but it was unclear whether it had managed to cross the goal line anyway. The video review didn’t provide a definitive replay, so the Penguins didn’t receive the tally, another break for Washington in a game of them.
[Penguins leave town fuming after Game 2 loss to the Capitals]
“Sometimes it goes your way, sometimes not,” center Nicklas Backstrom said. “We got lucky there.”
The Capitals had caught one break before the game even started. With Penguins center Evgeni Malkin and winger Carl Hagelin both out with injuries in Game 1, Washington didn’t take advantage of the opportunity, a theme in past postseason series between the teams. A year ago, the Capitals lost the game Crosby missed with a concussion. The year before that, top defenseman Letang was suspended for a game, and the Capitals didn’t win then, either.
Malkin was Pittsburgh’s leading scorer this season with 42 goals and 56 assists in 78 games, and Washington got another opportunity when Malkin’s undisclosed lower-body injury kept him out of Game 2, too. With Crosby and Malkin on the team, the Penguins have never lost a playoff series in which they took a two-games-to-none lead.
“Obviously, he’s a top player. There’s no question about it,” Capitals Coach Barry Trotz said before the game. “But at the same time, it doesn’t really matter. We’ve just got to win the game.”
[Could a suspension be coming for Capitals forward Tom Wilson?]
Washington again got the strong start it wanted; the team has scored first in all but one of its eight playoff games. Less than two minutes into the game, Capitals center Evgeny Kuznetsov and Hornqvist raced for a puck that had slid into Pittsburgh’s zone. Hornqvist got his stick on it, but he inadvertently passed it to Ovechkin, who quickly shot it past Matt Murray’s glove for the first goal of the game. That was Ovechkin’s second goal in as many games and his third point.
Then, with five seconds left in a power play, rookie Jakub Vrana maneuvered through three Pittsburgh sticks to get to the front of the net and beat Murray glove side. That seemed like a target for Washington; Connolly’s goal also was to Murray’s glove side. The Penguins challenged for goaltender interference because Connolly’s stick had made contact with Murray’s leg before Vrana’s goal, but the league determined that Connolly’s actions didn’t impair Murray from making the save, so the goal stood.
“Honestly, I didn’t really even know that I did that,” Connolly said. “I was shocked. It’s just a quick reaction. You’re kind of being intense, but it was way before. . . . We deserved that break. We’ve been playing so well. We deserved a break tonight.”
And then the Capitals made their own break, with Connolly getting the all-important third goal, insurance the series would be tied.
No hangover: The Capitals had two full days to put their third-period collapse in Game 1 behind them, and they appeared to do just that. Rather than playing tense and tight, Washington came out firing at Capital One Arena, out-shooting Pittsburgh 20-10 in the first period. It was a franchise record for shots on goal at home in any period in the playoffs and it resulted in a 2-0 lead. This time, the Capitals wouldn’t give it up.
Holtby rebounds: Braden Holtby allowed three goals in less than five minutes during his dreadful third period on Thursday, but turned away all 10 Penguins shots in the first period and 32 of 33 shots in the game on Sunday.
As in Game 1, when the Penguins rattled a couple of opportunities off the post, fortune shined on Holtby in Game 2. A couple of Pittsburgh shots deflected just wide of the net, while officials ruled that Patric Hornqvist’s stuff attempt on a wrap-around pass from Sidney Crosby in the third period never completely crossed the goal line.
“I’m not sure, I never saw it across the line,” Holtby told NBC’s Pierre McGuire of the controversial no-goal call after the game. “I saw it pinched kind of between my pad and the post, so I tried to bring my other leg around to keep it out. They wouldn’t show a replay here, so I really have no clue what happened.”
Oh, captain: Alex Ovechkin assisted on Washington’s first goal in Game 1, but was held without a shot on goal until the third period on Thursday. Ovechkin was an offensive force at the start of Game 2, scoring 1:26 into the first period to give Washington an early lead and registering all four of his shots on goal in the first period. Ovechkin’s seven goals through eight playoff games this season are his most in any postseason since he had 11 in 2009.
Penalty kill comes up big: Washington hasn’t allowed a power play goal since Game 3 of its first-round series against Columbus. The Capitals’ penalty-killing unit was three for three on Sunday, including a crucial kill late in the third period after Evgeny Kuznetsov took a foolish penalty for slashing.
Injuries to watch: The Penguins were without forwards Carl Hagelin and Evgeni Malkin for the first two games of the series and now they could be without Brian Dumoulin. The defenseman left the game in the second period after taking a shoulder to the head from Tom Wilson when he turned to avoid a hit from Alex Ovechkin. Dumoulin did not return to the game.
In-game analysisEnd of Period 3: Capitals 4, Penguins 1
With seven seconds remaining, Nicklas Backstrom buried a shot into an empty net to ice the Capitals’ 4-1 win.
Washington did it; they preserved a two-goal lead at home, with little help from a controversial no-goal call. The best of-seven-series is tied at one apiece with Game 3 set for Tuesday in Pittsburgh.
Kuznetsov loses his cool, makes Caps sweat: Barely more than a minute after the Penguins killed off Kris Letang’s holding penalty, Derick Brassard put the Capitals on the power play again by tripping Evgeny Kuznetsov. During Washington’s ensuing man advantage, Kuznetsov was whistled for slashing Kris Letang. The Capitals killed off Pittsburgh’s power play, most of it a 6-on-4 advantage after Matt Murray vacated the Penguins net. With less than two minutes remaining, Washington still leads by two.
Missed opportunities: Looking to put the Penguins away in the final 10 minutes of the third period, the Capitals failed to extend their two-goal lead on a power play and a chance just before that.
Matt Murray stopped Chandler Stephenson on a breakaway and Tom Wilson shanked a shot from just in front of the net later in the same shift. Washington would get another golden opportunity after Kris Letang was whistled for holding with 8:23 to play, but the Capitals couldn’t generate a scoring chance with the man advantage.
Caps catch a break?: Shortly after the Capitals killed off a Pittsburgh power play, the Penguins thought they had cut the lead to one. Patric Hornqvist threw his hands in the air in celebration after stuffing a Sidney Crosby wrap-around pass from behind the net between Braden Holtby’s left pad and the goal post. The goal light didn’t come on, officials on the ice didn’t rule it a goal and video review could not show it clearly crossed the goal line. The call stood, and so did Washington’s two-goal lead.
Another solid kill: The Penguins’ second power play of the game came less than six minutes into the third period, when T.J. Oshie was sent to the box for tripping Sidney Crosby. As it has been all postseason, the Capitals’ penalty-killing unit was up the task. Pittsburgh managed only one shot with the man advantage and failed to cut into the Capitals’ 3-1 lead. Washington hasn’t allowed a power play goal since Game 3 of its first round series and has now killed 21 consecutive penalties.
Thoughts on the Dumoulin hit: During the second intermission, NBC analyst Keith Jones weighed in on Tom Wilson’s controversial hit on Brian Dumoulin that knocked the Penguins defenseman from the game. Officials conferred after the play and did not call a penalty, though Wilson could be disciplined by the NHL’s Department of Player Safety following the game’s conclusion. Jones doesn’t expect that to happen.
“I think they got it right,” Jones said. “This is a tough one. … Wilson is pursuing him from behind, and by definition, by the rule, Wilson does not have the ability to turn away from the hit. He’s already committed to it, and the fact that Dumoulin stopped and turned into it is what’s going to keep Tom Wilson, in my opinion, from a suspension, and kept Tom Wilson from getting a penalty on that play.”
“It looked like it was a high hit,” Penguins Coach Mike Sullivan told NBC’s Pierre McGuire during the second period. “They didn’t see it that way, so we just have to keep playing.”
Dumoulin did not return at the start of the third period.
Lucky bounces running out for Pens?: It’s possible Pittsburgh’s fortunate puck luck is coming to an end at 5-on-5 play, or at least taking a break. During the regular season the Penguins converted 7.2 percent of their shots on net, roughly what we would expect from a league-average team. Then, in the series against the Flyers, they doubled that efficiency (15.2 percent). The Penguins kept that alive in Game 1 against the Capitals, converting 3 of 23 shots (13 percent), only to be 0 for 22 in Game 2. Their lone goal came when the teams were skating four aside.
This is how puck luck works — sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t. And right now, the Penguins don’t.
End Period 2: Capitals 3, Penguins 1
Goals were even at one apiece in the second period, but the Penguins have been surging since the Capitals took a 3-0 lead on Brett Connolly’s breakaway goal two minutes into the frame. Pittsburgh outshot Washington 15-6 in the period and almost pulled to within goal, but Braden Holtby got just enough of a Kris Letang one-timer with his catching glove to deflect it wide of the left post in the closing minutes.
The Capitals are 40-3-3 in 2017-18, regular season and playoffs, when they carry a lead into the third period.
There goes the shutout: Seconds after Braden Holtby stoned Jake Guentzel on a rebound attempt to preserve the Capitals’ 3-0 lead midway through the third period, Dmitry Orlov and Patric Hornqvist were each assessed roughing penalties. Pittsburgh finally got on the board during the ensuing four-on-four action, with Kris Letang’s shot from the point getting past Braden Holtby, who was screened by Guentzel.