A dominant third period launched the Pittsburgh Penguins over the division-leading Washington Capitals 7-4 on Friday night.
The Penguins third line was extraordinary early. At 2:11 of the first period, Riley Sheahan corralled the puck behind the net and delivered a perfect pass through the blue paint that found the tape of Phil Kessel (22). 1-0, Penguins.
Physicality began to escalate, highlighted by monstrous blows from Ryan Reaves on Alex Ovechkin.
“It’s one thing to get in the face of fourth line players,” said Reaves. “But you get into the faces of some of the stars — (coach Mike Sullivan) was throwing me out there against them a couple times. Maybe it puts them on edge a little bit. So get that out of the way in the first period and set the tone for the rest of the game.”
With just less than six minutes remaining in the first period, Carl Hagelin interrupted a D-to-D pass attempt from Christian Djoos, gathered the puck and snuck it under the blocker of Brayden Holtby, increasing the Penguins lead to two.
Holtby kept Washington in it early, with two big saves from the high slot from Hagelin and Sheahan.
The Capitals stopped the bleeding with 1:50 remaining when Ovechkin powered past Kris Letang in transition. In deep, the initial save was made by Matt Murray, the deflection banked off Brian Dumoulin and in. 2-1 after 1.
The teams erupted for an additional three goals in the second. The barrage began 26 seconds in on the Penguins power play. Patric Hornqvist shot the puck past Holtby, giving the Penguins a two goal lead.
Washington answered with a slapshot goal from Dmitry Orlov and, eventually, the equalizer from Evgeny Kuznetsov.
The second period ended with classic Penguins-Capitals bitterness. Tom Wilson and TJ Oshie added to their heel persona in Pittsburgh. Wilson and Oshie were both penalized late for questionable plays, although Kris Letang retaliated on Oshie. The third period began with a 4-on-4.
The talented Russians exchanged punches early in the third. Evgeni Malkin and Ovechkin opened the scoring with a goal each in the first two minutes of the frame, but then the Penguins took charge.
Pittsburgh scored three unanswered goals within minutes by Bryan Rust, Kessel and Malkin, which cemented the team’s fourth straight victory.
The Penguins look to continue their recent success in the second half of back-to-back games tomorrow against New Jersey.
-Patric Hornqvist (lower-body injury) will not travel with the team to New Jersey. He seemed to be favoring his right leg.
-Pittsburgh bruisers Ryan Reaves and Jamie Oleksiak played extremely well against Alex Ovechkin. A play of interest was with minutes remaining in the game. Oleksiak boxed out Ovechkin in the left wing circle, preventing a second chance opportunity.
-Oleksiak also played well offensively. His ability to move in transition and start the rush has improved over his 18 games with the Penguins, and it was amplified tonight.
-Penguins went 3-for-4 on the power play.
-Despite the return of Carter Rowney on the fourth line, the Penguins double shifted Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for large chunks of the game.
-Division foes Carolina and Columbus both lost Friday night. The Pens go up five and three points on those teams, respectively.