In the 1980’s the television “mini-series” was all the rage. A drama with a limited run of episodes provided suspense, scandal, and escapist drama that riveted audiences. The third installment of this mini-series featuring the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins provided all of that, with many twists and turns and unexpected plot lines before the Caps emerged with a 3-2 overtime win in Game 3 to make it a competitive series again and perhaps salvage their season.
The Caps scored first for the first time in the series, posting a power play goal in the first period. With the Caps on the 5-on-3 man advantage, Alex Ovechkin collected a loose puck at the top of the offensive zone and fed it deep to Nicklas Backstrom at the goal line extended to the left of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. Backstrom tried to feed the puck to Justin Williams in the low slot, but Fleury got the blade of his stick on the pass. He deflected the puck up and off teammate Ian Cole, and it fluttered over Fleury into the net to make it a 1-0 game 13:05 into the period.
The score held up into the third period, where the Caps added to it. It was Pittsburgh being the victim of a turnover, Trevor Daley unable to handle a pass that skittered out to the neutral zone where Williams pick it up. He skated down the left wall leading a 3-on-1 rush. He fed the puck across to Marcus Johansson skating down the middle, and Johansson wrapped a pass around defenseman Olli Maatta to Evgeny Kuznetsov camped to the left of Fleury. Kuznetsov had Fleury down and out, giving him time and space to lift the puck over him into the top of the net at the 9:46 mark to make it 2-0.
With the clock winding down in regulation, it appeared the Caps had things well in hand, but the Penguins tallied a pair of empty net goals in the last two minutes to tie the game. First, it was Evgeni Malkin one-timing a pass from Phil Kessel from the right wing circle past goalie Braden Holtby’s left pad on the short side with 1:53 left in regulation to make it 2-1. Then, 48 seconds later, Justin Schultz tied the game with his first goal of the postseason, one-timing a feed from Malkin that clicked off the stick of the Caps’ T.J. Oshie past Holtby to send the game to overtime.
In overtime, Trevor Daley was sent to the penalty box for holding Marcus Johansson. The penalty might have prevented a game-winning scoring chance, but it merely postponed the outcome. On the ensuing power play, Kevin Shattenkirk skating down the middle in the neutral zone and passed off the puck to Nicklas Backstrom at the Penguin blue line. Backstrom skated down the left wing wall, and then fed the puck back to Shattenkirk. Pulling the puck to his forehand and sliding to his left to get a better shooting angle, Shattenkirk let fly with a shot that beat Fleury on his blocker side and inched the Caps closer to tying the series with the 3-2 overtime win.
-- The win makes the Caps 4-2 in extra time games in this postseason and 28-34 in overtime games in franchise history.
-- Kevin Shattenkirk’s overtime goal was his first career overtime tally and his first career playoff game-winning goal.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and an assist, his goal was his second of the postseason in eight games, doubling his output from last season in 12 postseason games. It was his first two-point game in the playoffs since he had a goal and an assist in a 4-3 loss to the New York Rangers in Game 6 of their 2015 second round series. He had gone 21 postseason games without a multi-point game until last night.
-- Justin Williams had a pair of assists, giving him five assists and eight points in the postseason, the latter ranked third on the club.
-- Nicklas Backstrom had a goal and an assist of his own, his goal tying him with Alex Ovechkin for the team lead in the postseason (four) and his assist giving him six, tied with T.J. Oshie for the team lead. His ten points in the postseason leads all Capitals.
-- Alex Ovechkin had an assist, giving him points in six of his last eight postseason games and points in each of his last five playoff games against the Penguins (2-6-8).
-- The Caps out-shot the Penguins, 33-30, the third time in three games they out-shot Pittsburgh. Last spring, they managed to out-shoot the Penguins only twice in six games.
-- Andre Burakovsky had an odd night, and not in a good way. He skated just 9:11 for the game, a career low for a playoff game. He did not get a shift in the last eight-plus minutes of the second period. Part of that was the Caps taking two penalties in the last half of the second period (both by Kuznetsov), but it was still a light night, ice time wise.
-- Braden Holtby followed up his first-ever yanking from the crease in Game 2 with a solid performance, despite the two late goals. The second of them, a deflection off the stick of teammate T.J. Oshie, was one of those weird bounces that confound hockey analysts and set Caps fans to pulling their hair out. He stopped the first 26 shots he saw in the contest before allowing those two goals on three shots late in the third period. He stopped the only shot he faced in the extra session.
-- The Caps dominated the shot attempts once again, out-attempting the Penguins, 45-35 at 5-on-5 (56.25 CF%). The Caps have a Corsi-for at fives of 64.4 percent for the series (numbers from Corsica.hockey).
In the end…
This was, quite literally (given the misfortune befalling Sidney Crosby in the first period when he was cross-checked by Matt Niskanen and had to leave the game) a knock-down, drag-out battle. The teams were credited with 67 hits between them, not an extraordinary number, but still a reflection of the intensity. It was a game that seemed to play more to the Capitals’ strengths than the Penguins. But don’t get cocky. Yet again, the Caps failed to close the deal after taking a lead. This could have ended up being among the most bitter of losses in team history, especially so given that the Pens were missing the best player on the planet for all but the first 5:24 of the game. It was that close. But the Caps leaned over the edge of the cliff, looked into the abyss, and sneered at it. We will see if they can keep from creeping so close again to the edge when these teams meet again on Wednesday night.