Pens even series against Caps


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Just Haggin’ It: Familiar face Carl Hagelin celebrates his goal during the second period of the Pens’ 2-1 Game Two win over the Caps evening the second round series at 1-1. AP Photo by Martinez Monsivais/Getty Images

It comes as no surprise that the Pens and Caps are all even after two games played. By virtue of a 2-1 win in Game Two, the Penguins tied the best-of-seven second round Eastern Conference Semifinal.

The difference was a goal from former Cap Eric Fehr with 4:28 left in the third period. He redirected a great feed from Evgeni Malkin at 15:32 for the game-winner. Chris Kunitz added a helper on the play.

Twenty-one year old rookie goalie Matthew Murray did the rest. After barely having to sweat the first two periods which were totally dominated by his teammates, Murray made some clutch stops in a 14-save third. Honestly, he really was the difference maker in the end. That’s how good he was down the stretch. His rebound control was superb denying a tough John Carlson one-timer that took a low hop off a T.J. Oshie win on a offensive draw.

Murray also denied another Carlson bid in the final minute by blocking aside another tough low shot. His final test came on a Nicklas Backstrom, who was set up on a diagonal feed. But the young Pens netminder coolly gloved the dangerous shot with 14.5 seconds remaining. He finished with 23 saves.

For a vast majority, it was all Pens. They dominated large portions of the first two periods, holding the NHL’s highest scoring team to 10 shots. Pittsburgh was unable to beat Braden Holtby in a big first period. He stopped all 14 shots to keep the game scoreless. If not for the Vezina front runner, the Caps would’ve been run out of their own building. He was brilliant making 33 saves, including some key stops during a Pens’ onslaught following Carl Hagelin’s goal from Nick Bonino.

It was Hagelin, who again was a factor along with Bonino and an ever dominant Phil Kessel, who continues to turn it up since being put on that line by Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan. Even though the former Leaf didn’t register a point, he was all over the ice with four shots and another five attempts that didn’t reach Holtby. Overall, the Pens out-attempted the Caps 79-54. At one point, it was 66-32.

For a second consecutive game, Hagelin hit the score sheet when he was able to beat Holtby on a nice feed by Bonino from behind the net. The ex-Ranger has a goal and two assists so far in the series. It’s been the play of that line that’s been a constant for the Pens. Despite no points from captain Sidney Crosby in the first two games, they have continued to perform at a high level due to a relentless fore check.

It also helps when they have a motivated Malkin. As usual, the feisty Russian played on the edge getting away with a penalty in the third period. That’s when he’s most effective. He was very active throughout and not surprisingly factored in on Fehr’s winner. Taking a Kunitz pass behind the net, he skated around the right wall and found a wide open Fehr in the slot for a deflection past Holtby.

The Capitals had their goalie to thank for being in in Game Two. If not for some great stops, they wouldn’t have been able to tie the game in a more inspired third. Pittsburgh also had some chances to increase the margin but were unable to cash in on five power plays. Meanwhile, the Caps’ special teams were better. They went 1-for-2 on the man-advantage.

After having a tying goal wiped out on a good goalie interference call on Evgeny Kuznetsov with 2:02 left in the second, the Caps came on in the final stanza. After successfully killing off the Pens’ fourth power play to end the second only down a goal, they finally got an opportunity when Kris Letang was nabbed for tripping with the can opener. Of course, Pens workhorse protested but it was an easy call for ref Dan O’Halloran, who made a great ruling that wiped out a Caps goal.

On the power play, Kuznetsov fed Carlson at the top for a shot that deflected off some bodies in front right to Marcus Johansson, who buried it for the tying goal at 4:08 of the third. Buoyed on by a loud crowd, the Caps began controlling play. Despite some great looks, they were unable to get another puck by Murray. He did his part, rebounding from a so-so performance in Game One when he let in two questionable goals.

As a team, the Pens also sacrificed their bodies laying out for 24 blocked shots. Both teams did the job with the Caps blocking 22. In particular, Pittsburgh limited Alex Ovechkin- holding the game’s top sniper to three shots. As usual, Ovechkin kept firing with another six attempts not making it to Murray. He was tightly checked by strong Pens’ back checkers. Pittsburgh played better defense and ultimately it resulted in a hard fought win.

The Caps weren’t out of it by any stretch. They had their chances late following Fehr’s go-ahead tally. But were thwarted by Murray. The Pens iced the puck a couple of times causing danger chances for the top seeded Caps. However, their rookie goalie bailed them out to get the win.

Notes: Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik should face discipline from the Department of Player Safety after his late hit knocked out Pens defenseman Olli Maatta early on. It was not only a second late but high and could’ve been a interference major. Instead, O’Halloran and partner Kevin Pollock called a two-minute minor. The controversial play that caused Maatta to miss most of the game should result in at least a one-game suspension for a veteran who has a history of such cheap shots. Maatta only took two shifts logging 31 seconds. … Despite losing, the Caps dominated on face offs going a ridiculous 44-and-26. Remarkably, Backstrom went 18-and-2. Crosby lost 20-of-33 draws. … As previously noted, the Pens had 24 blocks led by Letang (5). The Caps had 22 with Karl Alzner (5) pacing them. … Key Stat: Missed Shots Pens-22 Caps-6 … Game Three is at Pittsburgh on Monday, which might explain why the Lightning and Islanders have to wait until Tuesday. Eh.

Letang A Workhorse: Pens D Kris Letang led all skaters in ice-time with 35:22 in 37 shifts. Though he was passed over for the Norris as league’s top defenseman with the deserving trio of Brent Burns, Drew Doughty and two-time winner Erik Karlsson nominated, Letang continues to play the best hockey of his career. He was a force in Game Two firing six shots and attempting 11 while playing physical delivering three hits and blocking five shots. However, his penalty did lead to the Caps’ tying goal. But Letang continues to be double shifted by Sullivan. He logged 34:02 in 43 shifts in Game One. At what point will he wear down?

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About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included two stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil games. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has scored Berkeley Carroll basketball games since 2006 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. From players, coaches to administrators, it's a first class program. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree.
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