Going into what might have been their last 20 minutes in the season, down 2-1 to the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Caps scored three goals in a five minute span early in the third period and forced a sixth game in the series with a 4-2 win at Verizon Center.
Pittsburgh opened the scoring with a goal midway through the first period, Carl Hagelin taking a feed from Nick Bonino in the high slot, stepping up, and snapping a shot past goalie Braden Holtby’s glove and off the post into the net to make it 1-0, 10:24 into the game.
It looked as if the 1-0 score would hold up going into the first intermission, but the Caps got even in the last minute. It was a matter of patience by Andre Burakovsky. Leaving the puck at the Penguin blue line for Kevin Shattenkirk, he let Shattenkirk carry the puck in before sliding in behind him. Shattenkirk left the puck for Burakovaky, who backed his way across the top of the left wing faceoff circle, toe-dragging the puck around Matt Cullen, then snapping a shot past the blocker of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury on the near side with just 29.7 seconds left in the period.
Pittsburgh regained the lead early in the second period on a power play. With Nate Schmidt in the penalty box on a holding call, the Pens worked the puck between and below the faceoff dots adeptly, Evgeni Malkin finally sending a pass through the slot to Phil Kessel alone low in the left wing circle. Holtby got a piece of Kessel’s one-timer with the edge of his blocker, and the puck hit the post, but it found its way in to make it 2-1, 4:20 into the second period.
It did not take the Caps long to knot the score again in the third period. It started with Nicklas Backstrom and Burakovsky skating in formation uip the left wing wall out of the Caps’ end. Backstrom fed Burakovsky the puck at the red line, and Burakovsky skated the puck into the Penguin end. Burakovsky worked the puck past Justin Schultz and onto the stick of Backstrom, who fired a shot under Fleury’s glove and over his left pad on the far side, 2:49 into the period.
Less than five minutes later, the Caps had their first lead of the evening. John Carlson out-fought Hagelin for the puck just inside the Penguins’ blue line, nudging it ahead to Evgeny Kuznetsov, who dropped the puck back to Marcus Johansson for a one timer. The shot was muffled in front and squirted out to Fleury’s right, to Kuznetsov deep in the left wing circle. Kuznetsov swept the puck in one motion behind Fleury before the goalie could get back across, and the Caps had a 3-2 lead at the 7:20 mark.
Just 27 seconds later the lead was two. Alex Ovechkin and Lars Eller ran a give-and-go heading out of the defensive end, Eller returning the puck to Ovechkin in stride. Ovechkin carried the puck over the Penguin blue line and cut to the middle. Trying to use defenseman Ron Hainsey as a screen, his shot was blocked by Hainsey. The puck came right back to him, though, and Ovechkin did not let the second opportunity get away. He ripped a shot over Fleury’s glove into the top of the net, and it was Caps, 4-2, at the 7:47 mark.
That was all Braden Holtby needed, as he shut out the Pens the rest of the way, and the Caps had life in a series that looked to be slipping away.
-- The goals scored 27 seconds apart by Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin were the fastest two goals scored by the Capitals in franchise playoff history.
-- Ovechkin is now 10-10-20, plus-8 in 19 elimination games in his career. The Caps are 11-8 in those games.
-- Over the last three seasons, Pittsburgh was 125-6-3 (regular season and playoffs) when leading after two periods of games. If there was anything approximating a certainty when the Penguins took a lead into the second intermission, winning would have been it.
-- Marcus Johansson was credited with more hits (five) than Tom Wilson (four). T.J. Oshie led the team with seven. The Caps were credited with 38 hits to 15 for the Penguins.
-- This was the 18th postseason game between these clubs in the Ovechkin/Crosby era. It was just the second time in those 18 games the Caps recorded a multi-goal win. They beat the Penguins, 3-1, in Game 5 in last year’s series.
-- Lars Eller had a pair of assists, his first multi-point game in the postseason since he had a pair of assists with the Montreal Canadiens in a 7-4 win over the New York Rangers in Game 5 of their 2014 conference final series.
-- Andre Burakovsky got his first goal of the postseason and his first playoff goal since Game 1 against the Penguins in their Eastern Conference semifinal series last spring. He added an assist to give him his first multi-point game in the postseason since he had both goals in a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers in Game 4 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series.
-- Kevin Shattenkirk had an assist to give him points in each of his last three games in this series (1-2-3, plus-5).
-- Two goals matters. Braden Holtby allowed just two goal on 22 shots, giving him a 24-11 record in the postseason when allowing two or fewer goals.
-- The Caps did not enjoy the same sort of shot attempt dominance they displayed over the first four games of the series, but part of that was score effect. When Alex Ovechkin scored the Caps’ fourth goal 7:47 into the third period, the Caps had a 43-28 in 5-on-5 shot attempts (60.56 percent). The Caps finished with a 51-42 edge (54.84 percent; numbers from Corsica.hockey).
In the end…
The Caps gave themselves a chance. Down 1-3 in games, that is all one can ask for. What might be the best thing about this game is that it is hard to put your finger on who the hero was. Braden Holtby was sharp, especially over the last 30 minutes. The Caps got four goals from four different players. They got one from the Captain, and they got one from a youngster who desperately needed one in Andre Burakovsky. Nicklas Backdstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov stepped up, as they have to do for the Caps to pull this series out. The Caps got only one point from a defenseman (John Carlson had an assist), but they did not allow the Penguins unfettered access to the front of the Caps’ net. And no Capital finished with a “minus” rating. It was something on which the Caps can build. And build is what they will need to do as the series heads back to Pittsburgh for another elimination game.