After falling behind, three games to one, the Caps tied the series with one of their best postseason performances in recent history.
Washington broke on top on with a power play strike in the first period. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom worked the puck back and forth along the right wing wall, Backstrom sending the puck down to Kuznetsov at the goal line for a one time pass to T.J. Oshie at the hash marks of the right wing circle. Oshie one-timed Kuznetsov’s feed past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and it was 1-0, Caps, 12:41 into the period.
The one-goal lead held up into the second period, and then the Caps added to it. Ron Hainsey could not handle a pass along the right wing wall in his own end, and he was muscled off the puck by Andre Burakovsky. Curling away from Hainsey, Burakovsky went to the net looking for a passing lane to Oshie on his right. Without a lane opening up, Burakovsky called his own number and flicked a shot that snuck between Fleury and the near post, and it was 2-0 at the 6:36 mark.
That was the score going into the third period, but the Caps struck on their first shot on goal of the period. Nicklas Backstrom picked up the puck just outside his own blue line and led Andre Burakovsky on a 2-on-1 rush. When Justin Schultz laid out to prevent a pass to Burakovsky, Backstrom called his own number and snapped a shot past Fleury’s glove to make it 3-0, just 16 seconds into the third period.
Mid-way through the period, the Caps poured it on. With Matt Cullen in the box for the Pens, Matt Niskanen slid a pass into John Carlson’s wheelhouse at the top of the left wing circle, and Carlson let fly with a one-timer that sailed past Fleury’s left shoulder high into the net to make it 4-0, 11:17 into the period.
Barely a minute later, the Caps struck again. Burakovsky and Oshie broke into the Pens’ zone on a 2-on-1 withonly Chad Ruhwedel back for the Pens. Ruhwedel denied Burakovsky a passing lane, so Burakovsky worked the puck around him, held for a moment, and then snapped a shot over Fleury’s glove to make it 5-0 at the 12:29 mark.
Karl Alzner and Patric Hornqvist were sent off for coincidental minor penalties with under four minutes left, and it gave the Penguins enough space to score a couple of cosmetic goals – Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin lighting the lamp. But it was not nearly enough as the Caps turned the lights out at PPG Paints Arena for perhaps the last time this season, winning Game 6, 5-2.
-- Pittsburgh does not have a 5-on-5 goal in the last 109:36 of this series. Since Carl Hagelin scored 10:24 into Game 6, the Penguins have a power play goal and two 4-on-4 goals. The Caps have outscored the Pens, 8-2, over the last four periods of the series.
-- Andre Burakovsky had three goals in his first 33 career postseason games. With a pair tonight, he has three in his last two games. He had his second consecutive two-point game in the series.
-- Evgeny Kuznetsov had a pair of assists, extending his points streak in the postseason to four games (3-3-6).
-- T.J. Oshie had a goal and an assist, his first multi-point game of this series and his third of the postseason overall.
-- Nicklas Backstrom was the fourth Capital with a multi-point game (goal, assist). It was his third two-point game in his last five in this series and his fifth two-point game of the postseason.
-- John Carlson led the Caps with seven shots on goal, one off his career high, set against the Penguins in Game 3 of last spring’s series between the clubs.
-- The win was the Caps’ second in Pittsburgh in this series, the first time they won two games in Pittsburgh in the same playoff series since they won Games 1 and 2 in Pittsburgh in 1996.
-- The five goals was the most scored by the Caps in regulation in a playoff game in Pittsburgh since they beat the Penguins, 5-3, in Game 2 of their 1996 series.
-- The 18 shots on goal allowed was the second fewest allowed by the Caps in a playoff game in Pittsburgh. They allowed 17 shots on goal in Game 2 of their 1994 series. It is the fewest shots on goal allowed in a road playoff win against the Penguins.
-- As in Game 5, the Caps won the shot attempts battle at 5-on-5, and as it was in Game 5, it was not as close as the final margin indicated. Washington out-attempted the Penguins, 40-31 (56.34 CF%) overall, but when they scored to make it a 5-0 game in the third period, the advantage was 38-26 (59.38 CF%; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
In the end…
The Washington Capitals played 94 games this season to arrive at Wednesday night, a home date with the Pittsburgh Penguins for all the marbles. The Caps have played in three Games 7 against the Penguins in franchise history, and each has dealt Capitals Nation their own brand of heartbreak –a 3-1 loss at home in 1992 after taking a 3-1 lead in games in the series, a 3-0 loss in Pittsburgh in 1995 after taking a 3-1 lead in games in the series, and a 6-2 loss at home in 2009 in the first postseason meeting between Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. Now we find the Caps in the ultimate test of whether or not they are a different team than the one Capitals Nation has known in many incarnations over the years. It’s time to just do it.