Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images
The Washington Capitals played another great game during Game 2 of their second round series against the Pittsburgh Penguins and this time got rewarded with a 4-1 win. The complete effort shown by the team from the goals they scored in the first period, to the poise in the second period, resisting the Penguins’ pressure, and closing out the game in the third period evened the series at one heading into Pittsburgh.
The Capitals had surrendered two-goal leads in three of their seven playoff games coming into Sunday afternoon. Coming off a Game 1 in which the Capitals allowed three unanswered goals in the third period after going up 2-0, it was vital for them to lock down, when they were up 2-0 after the first period with goals from Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana.
“It’s huge. You can see what happened last game when we led 2-0 and they came back and won the game.” said Ovechkin. “As I’ve said before, they’re the experienced team and they’re not going to give up and not gonna give an easy play for us. We have to earn it. Today I think we played a solid game. Everybody was in and we got a good result.”
Their biggest challenge came in the second period. Luckily, Brett Connolly scored 2:08 into the middle frame to give the Capitals a 3-0 cushion.
Other than the Connolly goal, the Penguins outshot the Capitals 16-6 in a period that felt even more lopsided. Other than a goal by Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, the Capitals did a good job not allowing anything else to get past goalie Braden Holtby. Holtby ended the afternoon stopping 32 of the 33 shots he faced for a .970 save percentage.
“We’re confident in our group. I think we played two solid games. In Game 1, we outplayed them a majority of the night and we got unlucky a couple of times so I think you see that a little bit tonight where we’re outplaying them and they’re a team that can kind of find that offense even when they feel like we’re spending most of the night in their end,” said Tom Wilson. “We just gotta make sure we stay focused. I think we did a good job of that, controlling the emotional parts of the game and keeping their guys in check for most of the night.”
The Capitals’ penalty kill continued their dominance. They entered this series with their biggest challenge to date against the Penguins, who owned the best power play in the NHL during the regular season with a success rate of 26.2%. In a 7-4 win over the Capitals back on February 2, three of those goals came on the power play. In the playoffs, the Penguins had five power play goals in their six-game first round series against the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Capitals’ penalty kill had another big showing as they killed all three penalties in Game 2, continuing a stretch in which they’ve killed 22 penalties in a row. The last power play goal they allowed came late in the second period in Game 2 of their first round series against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“We had a high level of commitment. We’re executing our clears really well and making it difficult to enter in our zone. In saying that, that’s kind of the way it goes sometimes in ways you want to make sure that you keep that going as long as you can and I think we’re making the adjustments at the right times,” said Holby. “It’s a credit to our coaching staff and the guys are executing it.”
The Capitals know what they’re up against in Game 3. It will be a hostile environment in Pittsburgh, Evgeni Malkin will be back, and an angry Penguins team will await the Caps. From Tom Wilson’s hit on Brian Dumoulin to a third period goal by Patric Hornqvist that was waved off, the Penguins have every reason to be upset. They’ll be taking that frustration out in Game 3 and the Caps have to be ready to match their intensity.=
“Come Game 3, that (penalty kill) stat means nothing,” Holtby added. “We’re gonna have to focus and do an even better job to have success in Game 3.”
By Michael Marzzacco