PITTSBURGH — The two-time defending Stanley Cup holders weren’t broken up about the Capitals clinching the Metropolitan Division title with a 3-1 decision at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday night.
Matt Murray nearly laughed out loud when a reporter asked him to describe his disappointment about the failure to chase down Washington.
“It is what it is,” he said, failing to stifle a smirk.
Evgeni Malkin‘s poker face wasn’t any better. Actually, he didn’t even try to hide his lack of concern.
“We never win the division,” Malkin said. “It’s not a surprise. We’re fine, you know. Now (the) focus on the first round will be here.”
No argument from this corner. It’s time to start discussing potential matchups, although this regulation loss brings a whole host of outcomes into play. The Flyers and the Blue Jackets are still the Penguins’ most likely first-round opponents, but the Devils are right there, as is the possibility that the champs sag into a wild-card berth and face the Bruins, the Lightning … or the Capitals.
Not that the Penguins expect to go on any kind of extended playoff run without squaring off with Washington, regardless of round.
“We’re probably going to see these guys again,” Olli Määttä told me. “It’s gonna be a tough matchup. We know the history behind these teams here.”
And while there might be a new character in this yearly drama — hello, Philipp Grubauer — there’s still plenty of respect in the Penguins’ room for the Capitals.
“They played hard,” Malkin said. “Goalie played unbelievable, too. They’re blocking shots. We understand they have a great team and they showed us tonight.”
• Both Määttä and Sidney Crosby said they “expected” the heated nature of the fourth and final Capitals matchup in this regular season.
“We’ve played them a lot and a lot of guys have been on both teams for a while,” Crosby said.
Malkin’s late-stage conflagration with T.J. Oshie went above and beyond the usual fun, though, especially once Malkin started jawing with countryman Evgeny Kuznetsov after he was issued a game misconduct.
“He started talking to me,” Malkin said of Kuznetsov. “Oshie grabbed my neck and it was a little bit tough for me. (Kuznetsov) tried to speak to me and I didn’t understand what he said.”
Regardless, whatever Kuznetsov was trying to say, it rankled Malkin, to the point he had to be escorted to the room because he was screaming at any Capital within sight.
“I think it’s not right,” he said
• On the second night of a back-to-back situation, the Penguins didn’t have a lot in the tank at even strength, getting out-attempted 40-33 despite trailing almost the entire game. (Teams that trail for that long typically tilt the ice in their favor. Human nature.)
The power play could’ve easily been a saving grace if only they could’ve capitalized on at least one of their high-quality chances. Natural Stat Trick credited them with 13 scoring chances on five power plays, six of those of the high-danger variety.
“Yeah, I think we did some good things,” Crosby said. “Unfortunately that’s the way it goes sometimes, but that was probably one of our better groups of power plays in the last little while, the way we moved the puck and shot the puck. We gotta build off that and if we do, they’ll go in the back of the net.”
Malkin wasn’t so positive, perhaps due to some frustration for hitting the crossbar in the second period with the score still 1-0.
“I’m not OK,” he said. “We have so many chances but we didn’t score. It’s a big part of our game. We have so many chances, we should’ve scored for sure.”
• Murray said Määttä provided a ” little” inadvertent screen on Dmitri Orlov‘s second-period goal, but otherwise the goalie wasn’t in a talkative mood.
He did have some complimentary things to say about the defense in front of him, which tightened up considerably after a shaky opening few minutes. T.J. Oshie‘s early goal on a partial breakaway might’ve been the last great look the Capitals generated at even strength.
“Pretty solid for the most part,” Murray said. “They’re a good team, so they’re going to get their looks, but I thought for the most part we did our job, forcing them to create instead of giving them opportunities.”