The Washington Capitals were pushed to the brink of elimination by the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series, as the Pens skated off with a 3-2 overtime win to take a 3-1 lead in the series.
The Caps carried the momentum they had late in Game 3 into the early portion of this contest, as Jay Beagle scored in the game’s third minute to give the Caps the first lead. Tom Wilson sent the puck on a long cross-ice journey from the center red line into the corner to the right of goalie Matt Murray. Beagle was first to the puck and wasted no time throwing a backhand shot at the net that seemed to surprise Murray. The puck sailed over Murray’s right shoulder, behind his head, and off the far post into the net to make it 1-0 just 2:58 into the game.
The Penguins tied the game mid-way through the period on a shot by Trevor Daley off a pass from Patric Hornqvist that appeared to hit two Capitals on its way to the net and bounce past goalie Braden Holtby at the 9:16 mark.
Pittsburgh took their first lead early in the second period off a center ice faceoff. It was a strange play right from that draw as the players who started the play figured in how it ended. Matt Cullen won the draw from Nicklas Backstrom back to Brian Dumoulin, who tried to feed Tom Kuhnhackl at the left wing boards. The puck eluded Kuhnhackl and bounced off the side boards. The puck skittered into the Caps’ end, where Cullen had snuck behind Nicklas Backstrom. Cullen collected the puck, skated in, and beat Holtby between the pads to make it 2-1, 3:07 into the period.
Washington tied it late in the period when Justin Williams stole the puck from Derrick Pouliot in the corner to the right of Murray and circled into the faceoff circle. From there he fed the puck across to John Carlson who ripped a shot over Murray’s glove to tie the game at the 16:19 mark.
Murray and Holtby kept the nets empty in the third period, and the game went to overtime. In the extra frame, Trevor Daley did a good job to keep a sliding puck in the offensive zone and fed the puck to Conor Sheary at the left point. Sheary’s shot was muffled in front, and the puck was free in the slot. Mike Weber tried to sweep the puck to the side boards out of danger, but managed only to put the puck on the stick of Hornqvist. His shot beat a sliding Holtby between the legs, and the Penguins had the 3-2 win and a stranglehold on the series.
-- Justin Williams had an assist, giving him points in consecutive games for the first time in the postseason.
-- Alex Ovechkin went 0-for-7 shooting in Game 4, making him 1-for-21 in this series (4.8 percent) in this series and 1-for-37 in his last seven postseason games (2.7 percent).
-- Every Capital was credited with a hit in this game, the team recording 41 in all, six by Mike Richards to lead the Caps.
-- Andre Burakovsky was the only forward without a shot on goal recorded. He has just six shots on goal in four games in this series and just 12 in ten games in the postseason.
-- Taylor Chorney recorded an assist on the goal by Jay Beagle, his first career playoff point.
-- Sidney Crosby recorded the second assist on the goal by Trevor Daley, his first point in this series.
-- Jay Beagle recorded his third goal of the postseason for the Caps. Only John Carlson, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie have more (four apiece).
-- The loss was the first suffered by the Caps in the postseason when scoring first. They were the 29th team to lose their first game when taking the first lead. Only Detroit, who scored first in just one game of their opening round series, is without a loss when scoring first.
-- Should the Caps lose this series, a bright light will be shined on the power play as a reason. Going 0-for-2 in this game and recording just one shot on goal against a depleted Penguin defense, the Caps are now 1-for-22 with the man advantage in their last seven games (4.5 percent). Conversely, the penalty killing remains magnificent. Shutting out the Pens on four opportunities, the Caps are 37-for-38 in the postseason (97.4 percent).
-- The Caps won the possession battle narrowly, out-attempting the Penguins at 5-on-5 by a 57-51 margin and dominating the third period by a 21-11 margin (scoring chances were 8-1 for the Caps in the third period, and high-danger scoring chances were 3-0; numbers from war-on-ice.com).
In the end…
It seems that every bounce or signal moment in this series has favored the Penguins. In this game it was Mike Weber, trying to do the right thing by sweeping the puck out of a high-danger area and putting it right on the tape of Patric Hornqvist’s stick. It was a “pass” of which Sidney Crosby would have been proud. But it should not have come to that. The Caps were presented an opportunity on a platter with the Penguins’ best defenseman – Kris Letang – serving a one-game suspension. And what did they do with it? The first line – no points. The second line – an assist on a goal by a defenseman. Praises will be sung about the play of Penguin goalie Matt Murray, and he has played well, but the Caps really haven’t found that next level of performance in this series that would allow them to generate their own lucky bounces. The Caps had better find that level soon, or the only plans that will be made for next week will involve tee times.