PITTSBURGH – In a span of five days, the Washington Capitals have gone from playoff disaster to playoff domination against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Looking faster, more efficient and more confident than their hated rivals, the Capitals win Game 6 of their second-round series, 5-2, on Monday night in Pittsburgh. What was a 3-1 series deficit on May 3 is now a 3-3 series tie, with Game 7 back in Washington on Wednesday.
The Capitals will attempt to become the 29th team in NHL history to rally from a 3-1 hole to win a playoff series.
They were eliminated in Game 6 last season in Pittsburgh, in their second-round series against the Penguins. What a difference a year makes.
T.J. Oshie gave the Capitals the 1-0 lead at 12:41 of the first period, on the power play.
Sidney Crosby was sent off for hooking after snuffing out a Tom Wilson scoring chance. The Capitals, on their second man advantage of the first period, saw Nicklas Backstrom skate to the top of the zone, attracting two Penguins penalty killers. He then sent a pass back to Evgeni Kuznetsov, their leading point producer in the series, behind the goal line. He snapped a pass to Oshie in the slot, and his quick shot beat Marc-Andre Fleury for his fourth of the playoffs.
It was the Capitals’ seventh shot on goal; the Penguins had just one at the time.
The Penguins were lifeless through the period, and on into the second. Minutes without a shot on goal, and even then they couldn’t be described as scoring chances. Power plays without a legitimate threat. Some of it was the Capitals’ pressure, but much of it was a complete collapse of the Penguins’ transition game and defensive zone structure – just like in the third period of Game 5.
The Capitals scored their second goal on such a collapse.
Ron Hainsey played the puck against the boards, unable to control it or send it out of the Capitals’ attacking zone. That allowed Andre Burakovsky to check him, steal the puck, skate in on Fleury and pop one behind him for the 2-0 lead.
The period ended with the Capitals having outshot the Penguins 16-8 through two periods. Fans booed. At least the ones who weren’t stunned into silence.
Those fans were loud at the start of the third.
And then they were silent again 16 seconds into the third, when Backstrom snapped a shot over Fleury, who was again outplayed by Braden Holtby (15 saves).
John Carlson scored at 11:17 on the power play to make it 4-0. Burakovsky scored his second unassisted goal of the game at 12:29 to make it 5-0.
The Penguins rallied late in the third period during 4-on-4 play, as Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin scored to make things briefly interesting. But this one was already done, and the Capitals won, 5-2.
The Capitals stars are showing up a critical time, while the Penguins’ are sputtering. Their goaltending is trending up, while the Penguins’ is trending down.
Heading into Game 7, they know they can beat the Penguins, while Pittsburgh is staggering to the finish line unsure how to recapture the success they had earlier in the series.
After hearing for a week how they couldn’t beat the Penguins, the Capitals are in the verge of doing it three times in a row to eliminate them from the playoffs.
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