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A Good Start: Penguins Steal Game 1 From Capitals

On the strength of three goals in five minutes, the champs turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 win.

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The Capitals scored in the opening minute of the first. Alex Ovechkin showed up on the scoresheet in a big way. Braden Holtby even carried a shutout into the third period.

The Penguins still won.

On the strength of three goals in a five-minute span early in the third, the Penguins turned a 2-0 deficit into a 3-2 lead and eventually a victory by that same score in Game 1 of a second-round Stanley Cup playoff series Thursday night at Capital One Arena in Washington.

Jake Guentzel — who else? — got credit for the game-winner at 7:48 of the third, redirecting a Sidney Crosby shot from the side boards under Holtby’s right arm. Crosby had just tied the score about two minutes earlier, burying a Guentzel feed between Holtby’s legs from the right circle. The third member of that top line, Patric Hörnqvist, had given the Penguins some life at 2:59 with a deflection of Justin Schultz‘s point shot.

“We’ve come back from deficits,” said Guentzel, whose three-point game gave him the points lead in the playoffs, at 16. “We were confident even when they got that second goal.”

Ovechkin’s snipe job from the left circle gave the Capitals a 2-0 lead just 28 seconds into the third. That mirrored Washington’s start to the game, in which Evgeny Kuznetsov netted a breakaway goal 17 ticks after the opening faceoff.

“We never want to give up that goal in the first minute,” Guentzel said, “but we just stayed with it.”

But despite the strong start and the long-held lead, there were some moments of ominous foreshadowing for the Capitals. Ovechkin missed an open net on a two-on-one rush midway through the first, then Matt Murray robbed Devante Smith-Pelly on a one-timer in the second, keeping the Penguins within striking distance.

“We knew they were going to come hard in this building,” Brian Dumoulin said. “They always do.”

Murray offered up a crescendo to his virtuoso performance with under three minutes to go, flinging his blocker out to punch Brett Connolly‘s rebound chance away from a half-empty net. Olli Määttä had just given the puck away moments prior, but Murray was there in a pinch as he was throughout a 32-save performance.

“If we tie up sticks and let him see the puck, we know he’s going to stop it,” Dumoulin said of Murray, who had a so-so first round against the Flyers.

The Penguins played their second consecutive game without Evgeni Malkin, out with a lower-body injury suffered last Friday. Carl Hagelin (upper-body injury) was also on the shelf, so Dominik Simon and Carter Rowney each got jerseys.

Much like in Game 1 of last year’s series against the Capitals, the Penguins mustered enough late quality to steal a result in Washington. Instead of Marc-André Fleury in net, this time it was Murray, who became a star two years ago in a sterling second round vs. the Capitals. To make matters worse for the home team on Thursday, Ovechkin could’ve prevented Crosby’s tying goal, but whiffed on the intercept.

The result was in doubt right from the start for the Penguins, with scrambling rampant all over the ice. Some of it was caused by heavy Washington pressure, but there was plenty of undisciplined play from the defending champions.

“I think it was a combination of bad pinches and not having the reloads,” Dumoulin assessed. “We gotta clean that up for the second game.”

One thing the Penguins did well was staying out of the penalty box. They gave the Capitals just one power play in the game, and that one lasted just 32 seconds after Guentzel’s high-sticking penalty negated a Pittsburgh advantage midway through the third. On that ensuing power play, Nick Bäckström missed converting a goalmouth pass, another close call that the Capitals couldn’t bury.

The focus afterward was more on five-on-five, though, with all but 3:04 of the game played at even strength.

“We gotta defend hard,” Guentzel said. “They’re a really skilled team and they’re good off the rush. If we take care of that, hopefully we use it to our advantage.”

It wasn’t how the Penguins planned to play Thursday, but they have successfully stolen one game in D.C., with a chance to snatch Game 2 at 3 p.m. Sunday.

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A lifelong hockey addict, Matt has been fortunate enough to make his career in his sport of choice, working in high school, juniors, college and the pros in various multimedia roles. Previous to joining PHN, Matt was a credentialed Penguins/NHL beat reporter for the past two seasons, including coverage of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. He signed on with PHN in Feb. 2018 as co-owner, contributing commentary and analysis in various forms.

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