With the Capitals aiming for a 10
th straight victory and the Penguins seeking to halt a season-high three-game slide, the two Metropolitan Division rivals stepped into a time machine and set the dial for the mid- to late-1980s on Monday night in Pittsburgh.
The result was a barnburner of a display of firewagon hockey that wound up with the Pens prevailing 8-7 in overtime.
Pittsburgh’s Conor Sheary was credited with the game-winning goal seconds into the extra session when the puck dribbled just over the goal line on a goalmouth scramble, ending a wild contest in which both teams rebounded from multi-goal deficits, and both teams combined to score nine of the game’s 15 goals in the second period.
“It wasn’t great on both parts,” says Caps coach Barry Trotz. “There were 15 goals [scored] today; both teams weren’t very good. They were good at scoring, but not defending.”
Evgeni Malkin had a hat trick for the Pens, scoring three times in a span of 10 minutes and 51 seconds in the middle stanza. Washington had a three-goal lead early in the second period, and Pittsburgh lost two-goal leads late in the second period and again in the third.
“We certainly know it’s not going to be easy,” says Caps right wing Justin Williams. “We’re up 3-0, things are going well and things have gone well lately. But [the Penguins] aren’t going to back away. They’re not going to say, ‘All right, maybe next game.’ They’re going to come at you, and they did.
“It snowballed too quickly for us. All around, it was like a 1988 Smythe Division game out there, not something we want to do.”
For the eighth straight game, the Caps scored the first goal of the contest. At the end of a shift, Washington winger Daniel Winnik forced a turnover behind the Pittsburgh net. Spotting Andre Burakovsky coming off the bench and into the zone, Winnik fed him perfectly, and Burakovsky had all the time and space needed to beat Pens goalie Matt Murray for a 1-0 Washington lead at 7:09 of the opening frame.
The Caps had the better of the play early in the frame, but they didn’t manage the puck as well on their side of the ice in the second half, and the Pens began to turn the tide. But Washington did manage to add to its lead with another forechecking goal late in the first.
Caps captain Alex Ovechkin forced a turnover with a hard hit on Pittsburgh’s Chris Kunitz behind the Pens’ net, and T. J. Oshie collected the loose puck and centered it with a laser of a backhand feed, right onto Nicklas Backstrom’s tape. Backstrom fired a wrist shot high to the short side to make it a 2-1 game at 17:09.
Washington pushed its lead to 3-0 early in the second when Williams netted his 15
th of the season. Williams got around Pens defenseman Ian Cole in a one-on-one situation and beat Murray with a short side wrist shot at 1:17.
The game turned a few minutes later when Patric Hornqvist issued an uncalled (and uncalled for) left glove punch to Oshie’s face behind the Caps’ net. Winnik took the Pens winger to task, and both received matching minors, setting up two minutes of four-on-four hockey that tilted the tilt.
The Pens struck twice during that span to close the gap to 3-2. Malkin whipped a shot past Caps goalie Braden Holtby at 6:28, and Sheary redirected a Sidney Crosby pass behind Holtby just 44 seconds later.
“There were about four or five turning points,” says Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen. “The four-on-four in the second period, they get two goals in two minutes. That’s where things started to get a little crazy. Obviously they got a ton of momentum then. We couldn’t really stop them for a while.”
This is true.
After Washington iced the puck and lost the ensuing draw in its own end, Nick Bonino tied it on a rebound goal at 8:55. Bonino’s goal ended a streak of more than 19 periods in which Washington had not surrendered a five-on-five goal. But there was still plenty of time remaining in the frame, too.
It took almost five minutes, but the Pens scored their fourth straight goal at 13:47, to take a 4-3 lead. Bryan Rust’s centering feed from behind the Washington net hit Holtby’s skate and went in.
Fifty seconds later, it was Malkin again. His second of the game made it 5-3 and chased Holtby to the bench in favor of Philipp Grubauer at 14:37.
Washington issued a response to that goal exactly 30 seconds later, making it a one-goal game once again. Taylor Chorney took a pass from Burakovsky and set up Brett Connolly for a redirection from the top of the paint. With 4:53 left in the second, the Pens owned a 5-4 lead.
Less than a minute later, Caps winger Tom Wilson was sent to the box on a questionable roughing call, giving the Pens a chance to restore their two-goal cushion.
Instead, the Caps drew even on a Lars Eller shorthanded strike. Oshie did great work at the Pittsburgh line to get the puck into the Pens’ zone, and Nate Schmidt made an excellent feed to the front for Eller, who popped it home to make it 5-5 at 16:54.
Unfortunately for Washington, the Pens still had 47 seconds worth of power play time with which to work. Pittsburgh needed only 25 seconds of that time to get the lead back, doing so when Malkin completed his hat trick on a goalmouth scramble at 17:19. Trotz issued a coach’s video challenge, alleging that Hornqvist interfered with Grubauer.
After looking it over, the officials upheld the goal. They ruled that Winnik caused Hornqvist to contact Grubauer before the puck had crossed the goal line, and Pittsburgh had a 6-5 lead to take into the third. Officials weren’t as specific as to the cause of Hornqvist pushing Grubauer back into the cage once the initial contact had been made.
Early in the third, the Pens went back up by a pair when Crosby beat Grubauer on a back door tap in, taking a feed from Sheary at the 5:55 mark.
The Caps got a couple of quick power plays thereafter, and they shortened Pittsburgh’s lead on the second of those extra-man chances. After Ovechkin pumped a hard shot on net, Oshie stretched out to get to the rebound before anyone in black and gold could do so. Oshie lifted a backhander over a sliding Murray to make it a 7-6 game with 10:31 remaining.
Washington made it 7-7 when Eller put an exclamation point on a sustained lunch bucket shift in the Pittsburgh end. Eller put back the rebound of a Dmitry Orlov point shot to square the score, and when he did so, a full 5:22 remained.
Neither team was able to light the lamp in that time span, but Sheary did so in the extra session, seconds after officials elected to overlook a rather blatant Crosby trip on Ovechkin on the first shift in overtime.
“That second period was one of the craziest periods I’ve been associated with,” says Pens coach Mike Sullivan. “I don’t even know how to assess it, just coming out of it. We’ll digest it, but coming off three losses in a row against a really good team that’s been beating teams handily, I really liked the way our guys competed.”
“I just thought they had more urgency in the game,” says Trotz of the Pens. “When they got that momentum, they just got more urgent on the game. And when they got ahead, then we got a little more urgent. It was a strange game.”
Washington’s nine-game winning streak died in the ashes of a wild affair on Monday night in Pittsburgh, and no one who witnessed it will forget it anytime soon.