If every game of this second round series is played like tonight, it’ll be enjoyable to watch. In a wild and action packed first game, the Caps prevailed over the Pens 4-3 in overtime to get the jump on the Eastern Conference Semifinal at Verizon Center.
T.J. Oshie completed a hat trick to lead the top seeded Caps over the Pens in an exciting Game 1. After tallying twice in regulation, Oshie was able to beat Pittsburgh rookie Matthew Murray on a quick wraparound scoring at 9:55 of sudden death. He circled around the net and stuffed the puck into Murray’s extended pads with it narrowly crossing the goal line as hats were tossed on the ice in celebration.
Credit ref Dan O’Rourke for making the right call during a live look. When Oshie made his move, I had no doubt he scored. But the first replays on NBCSN were inconclusive. Only when they showed a different angle from more of the front that you could clearly see the puck go fully across the line with white. Following a video review with Toronto, O’Rourke confirmed the call on the ice officially signaling good goal on Oshie’s OT winner.
It wasn’t the best defensively played opening game. Neither team defended well with each guilty of some awful coverage on goals against. However, the style was wide open with both sides trading chances. For the Caps, they might not want to get sucked into that kinda game with the dangerous Pens, who controlled much of the play in the second and third periods.
After giving up the game’s first goal to Andrei Burakovsky in a first that saw the Caps hold a 15-9 shots advantage, the Pens came back with consecutive strong periods. They outscored the Caps 3-2 and out-shot them 30-12, completely outplaying and out-chancing them.
Consecutive goals from Ben Lovejoy and Evgeni Malkin 57 seconds apart came midway through the second to put the Pens ahead. After Lovejoy finished off a Nick Bonino pass at the doorstep, Malkin scored a highlight reel goal, going to the backhand top shelf on Braden Holtby for a 2-1 lead at 11:37. Kris Letang started it with Chris Kunitz leading Malkin, who scored his third of the playoffs.
But before they could settle in and play with the lead, Oshie stole a puck in the neutral zone and then abused the Pens defense, wiring a wrist shot top shelf over Murray’s glove for the equalizer only 33 seconds later. An unassisted goal from a gifted player who is money on breakaways as we know from his days as an Olympian on Team USA.
At the 13-minute mark of the second, Malkin threw a hit on Caps’ antagonist Tom Wilson, which he didn’t take kindly to. It resulted in matching minors. Wilson would later deliberately go knee on knee with Bonino right in front of the benches with Pierre McGuire looking on. There was no call which incensed Pens coach Mike Sullivan. The game remained tied entering the third.
It was Oshie who put the Caps back ahead with his second of the night at 3:23. The Pens simply watched Alex Ovechkin, who wisely passed in front for a cutting Oshie. Unchecked by four Pens who puck watched, Oshie slipped a backhand five-hole on Murray for a bad goal that gave Washington a 3-2 lead at 3:23 of the third.
After Evgeny Kuznetsov and Phil Kessel traded minors 14 seconds apart, the teams skated four aside with the Caps unable to do anything on an abbreviated power play. Less than a minute later, a Kessel dump in led to Carl Hagelin getting a loose puck behind the net and finding Bonino in front for a quick shot that deflected off a Cap past Holtby to tie the score once more with 11:19 left. This time, it was faulty defense by Washington with four players watching as Hagelin passed for Bonino for his first. Hagelin also assisted on the Pens’ first goal.
The Pens were more dangerous most of the third, out-shooting the Caps 13-5. But they were unable to beat Holtby, who made 42 saves to put in a performance worthy of what’s likely his first Vezina.
The first game would go to overtime. In it, the Caps had about five to six glorious chances to end it. In fact, during the opening shift Nicklas Backstrom nearly set up Ovechkin in front but he was denied by Murray. Murray also thwarted Ovechkin on a breakaway turning aside his backhand. He beat Ovechkin twice on dangerous chances. Burakovsky had at least three but missed the net by a wide margin on two including one from 12 feet. He was all set up but blew it. The final chance was gloved by Murray.
The Pens’ best chance came from a scrum in front but Holtby was able to get a whistle with players battling in front. Finally, Oshie ended things with another unassisted tally. His speed was a factor throughout. It was on display again when he went around Brian Dumoulin and went for the wraparound, tucking the puck just inside the post as Murray desperately attempted to keep it out. The call was goal on the ice as fans erupted.
Trevor Daley was beaten on the play. He didn’t recover in time which left Murray to guard the post. He didn’t get completely back, leaving just enough wiggle room for Oshie to get the hat trick and be the hero.
Notes: Sidney Crosby was a minus-three along with Conor Sheary, Patric Hornqvist and Daley. The Pens captain had no points. … Dmitry Orlov was benched by Capitals coach Barry Trotz after making a couple of mistakes. He only saw 12 shifts (5:44). … Ovechkin had an assist with seven hits as the Caps out-hit the Pens 43-29. Kris Letang paced the Pens with seven. He also led all skaters in ice-time (34:02) during 43 shifts. The Caps’ top ice getter was Matt Niskanen (32:11) in 39 shifts. … Game 2 is Saturday night. … Both Western Semifinals get underway Friday. Dallas hosts St. Louis at 8 PM. San Jose hosts Nashville at 10:30 PM. Both can be seen on NBCSN. … The Islanders and Lightning get a second consecutive day off before returning for Game 2 on Saturday at 3 PM on NBC.