The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals engaged in a heavyweight battle from start to finish, Wednesday. The captains Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin yelled at each other from their benches. But as the Capital One Center crowd roared for a tying goal, the tired Penguins defenders deflected shots as their embattled goaltender Matt Murray absorbed just enough shots for the Penguins to earn and escape with a 2-1 win over their hated division rival.
“I came out to play hockey, not chat with him,” deadpanned Sidney Crosby to NBC Sports.
The Penguins survived a pair of scares in the third period. Midway through the third period, Evgeny Kuznetsov’s shot trickled through Murray but hit the post before Riley Sheahan cleared the puck. Late in the third period, a puck again trickled through Murray towards the goal line, but Marcus Pettersson dove towards to net and swept the puck away just as it reached the line.
The game didn’t take more than seconds to reach a fevered pitch. After Penguins defenseman Jamie Oleksiak stepped into embattled Washington forward Tom Wilson, the pair dropped the gloves. Wilson landed a flush right hand, and the fight was over. KO. Oleksiak was forced to leave the game, and the Penguins were down to just five defensemen within the first minute of the game.
“It probably had to be done sooner or later and give him a chance to defend his teammate–what happened last year,” said Wilson.
Several minutes later, after shouting matches between the benches and captains Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby, Ovechkin and Penguins defenseman Kris Letang exchanged words, then shoves, then gloved punches behind the Penguins net.
The Penguins habit of blue line turnovers cost them six minutes into the second period. Jake Guentzel tried to plow through Capitals defenders and the linesman, alike. It didn’t work. Washington transitioned quickly while the Penguins changed lines and Tom Wilson softly set up Lars Eller who deked Penguins goalie Matt Murray.
The Penguins didn’t let Washington lead for long. Two minutes later, Crosby’s first goal was a power play, midway through the second period. The Penguins captain (16) neatly deflected a shot-pass from Evgeni Malkin.
With one minute remaining in the second period, the Penguins earned their first lead. The Penguins top line led by Crosby controlled the puck in the low zone. Crosby appeared to chip in Jake Guentzel’s rebound for a 2-1 lead. However, a scoring change during the second intermission gave Byran Rust (7) the marker.
Since Rust ended a string of terrible luck with a hat trick in Chicago, he has six goals in the last five games.
Penguins goalie Matt Murray, who made his second start since being activated from the IR last week, was decreasingly stout. Television replays caught him to lose sight of a pair of glove saves. He finished with 31 saves.
“It was a real character win, I thought. It wasn’t easy, but we got it done. I don’t think we had our best, but good teams find a way to win even when they’re not playing their best,” said Murray.
In addition to the first period fight with Oleksiak, Capitals forward Tom Wilson also collected the assist on Eller’s goal in the second period. Washington goalie Braden Holtby stopped 30 of 32 shots.
With only five defensemen, the Penguins blue line corps played heavy minutes. Kris Letang played over 32 minutes.