Since taking over the Pittsburgh Penguins midway through the season, Mike Sullivan has said that there is a lot that he likes about his team.
Mainly their resiliency.
He has been asked countless times what he thinks is the Penguins’ best attribute. After rattling off a few characteristics (speed, talent, etc), he almost always ends by saying that the thing he likes most is this team’s resilience.
That trait will be tested tomorrow night when Game 6 is played at Consol Energy Center back in Pittsburgh.
While they certainly didn’t dominate the Pens from start to finish in Game 5, the Capitals did come out flying, drawing a penalty and scoring on the subsequent power play just over four minutes into the game. And in a period that has typically been owned by the Penguins this postseason, the Caps turned the tables and scored twice to produce the final margin of victory.
A final score of 3-1 kept the Capitals alive in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for at least two more days.
Not Bad, But Not Good Either
By no means did the Pens play a horrible game on Saturday night.
But it was far from their best effort.
The Caps utterly dominated play in the first five minutes. It was all Pittsburgh could do to clear the puck to center ice.
After Nicklas Backstrom took a boneheaded interference penalty against the Pens’ Kris Letang, Chris Kunitz finally got on the board in these playoffs with a power play goal that seemed to shift the momentum.
All seemed to be going well for the Penguins into the second period, until Tom Wilson aggravated Ian Cole into taking a retaliatory slashing penalty.
After hearing an Alex Ovechkin shot whiz past his head in the first period (the Caps’ first goal), Matt Murray was able to make the save on an Ovechkin shot on this particular Caps’ power play. It was the rebound that he allowed however, that T.J. Oshie was able to find in a crowd and barely push into the goal, that turned out to be the game winner.
Jason Chimera would make a nifty play against Pens’ defenseman Brian Dumoulin on an attempted clearing pass, and Justin Williams would capitalize to give Washington the insurance goal it craved.
Braden Holtby made two spectacular saves in the second period, one against Patric Hornqvist on the doorstep, and one against a charging Justin Schultz shooting at a yawning cage to preserve the two-goal advantage heading into the third frame.
The final period would tick away without much in the way of scoring opportunities for the Penguins. They had their chance to eliminate the Capitals, and they came up short.
All Eyes Will once Again be on Matt Murray
The consensus opinion on Murray is that nothing really rattles him. He has a unique ability (among goalies it seems) to put goals behind him and move on to make the next save.
Or, on a broader scope, to have a bad game and put it behind him, then come out in the next contest and slam the door.
The Penguins will certainly be hoping for this come Tuesday night.
Murray admittedly allowed a few soft goals in the Caps’ 4-3 overtime win in Game 1. He responded by stopping 23 of 24 shots, 14 of those shots coming in the third period, in Game 2.
Game 3 was his finest performance to date as Pittsburgh, despite a 3-2 victory, decided to have its worst effort of the postseason.
Murray stopped 47 of the 49 shots he faced that night.
The kid has a knack for bouncing back in big situations, after a less-than-stellar effort by his standards.
The Ovechkin power play goal that opened the scoring on Saturday night was a head hunter. There aren’t many goalies in the world that would’ve stopped that shot.
The second goal was a bad rebound off another Ovechkin cannon. The third, despite the Dumoulin turnover, trickled through Murray’s 5-hole and was thus another goal he’d like to have back.
Defensively the Penguins put forth an effort like they did in Game 2. The Capitals had only 12 shots through the first two periods. Yet three of those 12 shots found their way either past or through Murray.
History says he’ll be better in Game 6.
Stars Must Play Like Stars
Through five games in this series, the Penguins’ top guns have been largely invisible.
Sidney Crosby has two assists. Evgeni Malkin, a goal and an assist. Kris Letang, like Crosby, two helpers.
That’s it. That’s the list.
Ovechkin meanwhile, has come alive since his 1-goal, 18-shot performance (albeit in defeat) in Game 3. After his power play goal and power play assist in Game 5, the Caps’ captain now has two goals and three assists for Washington in this series.
That’s a step above what the Penguins’ big three are doing.
When you make the most money on the team, it’s widely expected that you’ll play and produce like it. That’s Crosby, Malkin and Letang. The top three earners for the Penguins.
Game 6 will take on a bit of a “must-win” feel for Pittsburgh. They were hoping to have Tuesday night off.
They certainly don’t want to go back to D.C.
If they want to avoid playing Thursday night and begin preparing for Tampa Bay, those three highest-paid Pens, not to mention the other 17 who dress, must find that much-admired resilient nature.