Interestingly enough, Game 2 followed much of the same script as Game 1 did for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Start fast, carry the bulk of the play, and dominate the shot total.
Only this time, the push back from the Washington Capitals came in the form of their goaltender, Braden Holtby.
While the Penguins utterly dominated play through the first 40 minutes of Game 2 – Washington had just 10 total shots on net through two periods – it was the play of Holtby that kept the Caps in this game.
It wasn’t until Carl Hagelin’s goal just over seven minutes into the second period that Pittsburgh was able to break through the Caps’ netminder.
It wasn’t until the third period that the Capitals finally found their legs. Pittsburgh limited the mistakes and turnovers from Game 1, and fronted nearly every Washington forward who had the puck on his stick.
It was both a tidy game and very defensively sound for the Penguins. Thanks to the aforementioned goal by Hagelin, and an Eric Fehr deflection with 4:28 remaining in regulation, the Pens were able to steal home-ice advantage and even the Eastern Conference semifinals at game apiece with a 2-1 victory.
Fixing Correctable Mistakes
In Game 1, the Penguins’ undoing was thanks in large part to unforced errors and turnovers.
The types of things that have plagued this team for years.
Drop passes to no one in particular. Cross-ice passes through what seems like throngs of legs, skates and sticks.
Or just simply the inability to pass the puck accurately, not to mention not being able to receive what passes are accurate cleanly.
The Pens have not lost back to back games since mid-January. Their ability to recognize mistakes and make adjustments prior to their next game has a lot to do with that.
In the previous series against the New York Rangers the Pens lost Game 2 largely due to the same reasons. They rebounded with a solid defensive effort (limiting the Rangers to just 17 shots) and eliminated a lot of the costly errors to win Game 3. Last night was no different and the correct adjustments were made to propel the Penguins on to a Game 2 win.
Haunting His Old Team
Eric Fehr got the game-winner at 15:32 of the third period off a delightful feed from Evgeni Malkin in the right circle.
Malkin said that he had “a really good look” at Fehr skating right down the slot as he aimed for his blade. Fehr took care of the rest, obliging Malkin’s pass and deflecting the puck just over Holtby’s glove for the 2-1 lead that would withstand a furious Caps’ rally over the final four and a half minutes.
It was a welcome moment for Fehr, considering the night he had.
He was on the ice when Washington tied the game early in the third on a gift of a power play. Fehr had an opportunity to get off the ice after a long shift on the penalty kill when Pittsburgh had cleared the zone. He chose to stay on because the puck only got as far as center ice.
The goal wasn’t a direct result of Fehr’s long shift, but it was Fehr who failed to get the puck deep into the Caps’ zone, and the transition led to the tying marker.
Keeping Their Foot on the Gas
Again, it can’t be overstated how much the Penguins dominated the first 40 minutes of this hockey game.
But the Caps were able to withstand it thanks to otherworldly goaltending.
For all of the effort and energy put into those first 40 minutes however, it was all undone in the third when Washington tied the game.
Pittsburgh had to know that the push was coming. Yet Washington came out and hammered the Penguins from start to finish in the third period. The Penguins couldn’t get anything going.
They sat back and tried to defend a one-goal lead against a team that ran away and hid with the President’s Trophy for the last month of the season.
There is a fine line in the NHL between playing to win and playing not to lose. With a one-goal lead in the playoffs, the mindset has to be “play to win” every time.
The Penguins will look to strike early and often in Game 3 back in Pittsburgh on Monday night. If they are successful, they must keep their foot on the throat of the Capitals.
These are two very talented hockey teams. No one predicted this series to end prior to a sixth game.
There were those who thought that maybe the Caps had fired their best shot in Game 1, and Pittsburgh took it, but succumbed in overtime.
With the way the Pens played those first 40 minutes, undoubtedly it will be said that Washington took Pittsburgh’s best shot, and only lost 2-1.
So far, this series is living up to its billing. This is Must See TV.
Olli Maatta was hit by former Penguin Brooks Orpik in the first period. Maatta tried to get to his feet after the hit, but fell back to the ice and required help from his teammates to skate off. He did not return.
Orpik was only given a two-minute minor for interference. Every replay of the hit showed that Orpik deserved at least a 5-minute major, if not a game misconduct. The hit was high, late, and the puck was nowhere near Orpik or Maatta.
I thought it was a late hit. It was a target to his head. I think it was the type of hit that everyone from hockey is trying to remove from the game.
– Penguins’ head coach Mike Sullivan
Orpik would strike again in the second in a post-whistle scrum. The Pens were on a power play when Orpik would punch Kris Letang in the back of the head. The hit knocked Letang’s helmet off, yet no penalty was assessed.
Nick Bonino looks like a different human being. He had the primary assist on Hagelin’s goal and as evidenced by the video above, Bonino was the straw stirring the drink on that play.
After taking a errant puck to the ear while sitting on the bench in Game 1 and not returning, Chris Kunitz was able to go in Game 2 and had a number of prime scoring chances.
Game 3 will be played on Monday night at Consol Energy center in Pittsburgh. Puck drops at 8:10 p.m.