NHLN Playoff Notebook: The Capitals are on the brink

Updated: January 11, 2018 at 2:32 am by Cam Lewis

There are two ways you can look at this Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins game last night. Either you look at it as the Capitals — the NHL’s vest team this season, the one that was expected to roll, maybe not easily, but with some amount of difficulty to the Stanley Cup Finals — failing yet again to get the job done. Or, you can look at as the Penguins — who have been the hottest team in the league since the turn of the New Year — playing a damn good game and capitalizing on their chances. 

Regardless of how you want to spin it, the perspective you take, or which narrative you subscribe to, the Penguins have the Capitals’ backs right up against the wall, and it’s going to be very, very difficult for them to come back and win this series.

Pittsburgh Penguins 3 – Washington Capitals 2


Obviously this game hurts a lot because it ultimately puts Washington down three games to one in the series, but it’s also unfortunate because of the circumstances leading into it. The first two games were split in Washington, as the Capitals grabbed the first game in overtime, and were then hammered by the Penguins in the second game. Heading back to Pittsburgh, the Capitals came out with a much better effort in the third game, but Matt Murray stole a win for the Penguins. 

Okay, not ideal, but for the fourth game, Pittsburgh would be without Kris Letang, easily their best defenceman and most valuable skater, due to a suspension. So after the way things went in game three, with the Penguins’ win seeming somewhat lucky, the Capitals were in a good spot to even things up and make this a three game series with home ice advantage. 

The Caps came out flying, such as they did in game three, and managed to grab a one goal lead just three minutes into the game. It was a strong first period that had the Capitals looking like this game going to be a repeat of the previous game, hopefully with some better luck. They outshot the Penguins 16-12 in all situations and had superior possession numbers, but the Penguins grabbed the equalizer on a pretty ugly/unlucky/unfortunate goal for Braden Holtby. 

In the second period, Matt Cullen (I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t know he was still in the league) got a partial break around Nicklas Backstrom and buried it past Holtby. Before the end of the period though, John Carlson capitalizes on a misplay by Derrick Pouliot and roofs a shot past Murray to tie the game. Capitalizing on opposing misplays is pretty much the theme here, hey? 

It became evident that the lack of Letang was wearing the Penguins down, as the Capitals were really pushing the play in the third period. The Capitals managed to outshoot the Penguins 9-7, which doesn’t seem like much, but they really controlled the play, earning 21 even strength shot attempts in comparison to Pittsburgh’s 11. But such as he’s been all series, Murray was excellent, and the Capitals couldn’t get anything by. 

In overtime, just two minutes in, actually, Patric Hornqvist iced the game, and possibly the series for the Penguins off of a really horrific defensive misplay by defenceman Mike Weber. The puck was almost cleared out of Washington’s zone, but it was kept in by Brian Dumoulin, who lobbed it softly at the net. From there, Weber proceeds to kind of stop it, but to really, and then pass it right over to a wide open Hornqvist, who buries it past a helpless Holtby. Here’s an excellent post at Pensburgh, an SBnation page for the Penguins, that breaks the whole thing down. 

Well, here we are now. The Capitals are down to their final strike. The Penguins are one win away from advancing to the Conference Finals. Of course, history in situations like these isn’t the best way to predict the future, but as we know, it’s not often that a team comes back from 3-1 down to win a series. I mean, the Capitals know all about it, as they let the No. 8 seeded Canadiens come back from 3-1 down in 2010 to beat them in seven games, and they allowed the Rangers to do it to them last year in the second round. So, uh, yeah. 


Three Stars

3. Alex Ovechkin/T.J. Oshie/Nicklas Backstrom 

You can’t pin this one on them, even though when the series is over, these are the guys who are probably going to take the heat for not getting it done. They each had a Corsi For percentage of at least 66 per cent at even strength, and created virtually all of Washington’s high danger scoring chances. 

2. Matt Murray 

He’s pretty much the reason the Penguins have this lead right now. After standing on his head and stealing the third game of the series, Murray was fantastic again, stopping 34 of 36 shots, with many of them being high danger chances. 

1. Patric Hornqvist 

Maybe he was just in the right place at the right time, maybe Mike Weber deserves this one (from a Pittsburgh perspective), but regardless, Patric Hornqvist won the game for the Penguins with his overtime goal last night, so he’s the top star.