Observations from the Penguins' 4-3 overtime win against the Capitals:
Playoff histories are fun things to look at.
You can easily get lost on YouTube watching old playoff overtime goals or big hits or spectacular saves. Digging through old media guides or looking up hockey statistical sites trying to find who had however many game-winning goals or power-play assists can be addicting.
It can also be meaningless to the here and now.
When the Penguins and Capitals began play tonight at 8:10 p.m., the fact that the Penguins had troubles protecting 3-1 series leads didn't have any bearing on how this game would go. Neither did the Capitals' inability to get past the second round.
This was just two great hockey teams conspiring to display the sport at darn near its highest level. No, it wasn't a perfect game. The superstar players didn't necessarily influence this game as much as many would have liked. And there were plenty of errors or imperfections to this contest. In one sequence during the third period, there was a simply bizarre series of delay of game penalties unlike anything most hockey fans have ever seen.
But good gosh ... This was marvelously scintillating theater.
Justice would have given this series a Game 7. Center Nick Bonino only allowed it to go to Game 6. That doesn't mean this wasn't one of the best series we've personally seen in quite some time.
This game was a perfect capper to what was a showdown between the NHL's two best remaining teams in the postseason.
Ultimately, the Penguins' speed and depth pushed them past the Capitals and into an Eastern Conference final showdown with the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Tonight, they made some history.
The Penguins took the game's first lead 5:41 into regulation. Taking a simple outlet pass in the neutral zone from defenseman Brian Dumoulin, right winger Phil Kessel gained the offensive zone on the left wing. He used Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner as a screen and sniped a wrister by the blocker of goaltender Braden Holtby on the near side. Dumoulin and left winger Carl Hagelin had assists.
A power-play goal gave the Penguins a 2-0 lead at 7:05 of the second period. With former Penguins defenseman Brooks Orpik in the penalty box for a double minor after high sticking right winger Patric Hornqvist, defenseman Kris Letang took a pass at the center point then fed a pass to Kessel low in the left circle. Kessel surveyed the offensive zone, made his way towards the crease, waited for Holtby to commit and tucked a forehand shot by his left skate. Capitals defenseman Matt Niskanen gave Kessel a shove in the back aftewards and Kessel did a bellyflop in celebration. Consol Energy Center was rocking. Assists went to Letang and Kunitz.
They cashed in Orpik's second minor 33 seconds later. Center Nick Bonino controlled the puck on the left half wall and fed it to defenseman Trevor Daley at the left point. Daley then dealt it to the right point for defenseman Olli Maatta. Maatta floated a wrister from the right point towards the cage. Hagelin was positioned in front of Holtby and deflected the puck downwards past Holtby's right skate. Assists went to Maatta and Daley.
The Capitals' own power play got them on the scoreboard with 1:30 left in the second period. Left winger Alex Ovechkin dumped a puck in from the left point around the end boards. As defenseman Ian Cole tried to recover his stick behind the net, Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom settled the puck in the right corner and distributed it to right winger T.J. Oshie in the right circle. Oshie immediately released a fireball of a one-timer while falling. The puck blew by goaltender Matt Murray's right shoulder on the far side and hit twine. Backstrom had the lone assist.
The Capitals pulled within a goal at 7:23 of the third period. Taking a feed below the goal line, Capitals left winger Justin Williams veered behind the net and backpedaled to the left of the cage where he lifted a wrister from in tight by Murray's glove hand on the near side. Backstrom had the lone assist.
The game was tied after a wild, bizarre sequence. After the Penguins took three consecutive delay of game penalties - by left winger Chris Kunitz, Bonino and defenseman Ian Cole - the Capitals had 1:04 of a five-on-three power play to work with. Ovechkin fed a pass from the high sltot to defenseman John Carlson in the left circle. Carlson uncorked a one-timer which sneaked inside Murray's blocker on the near side. Ovechkin and Williams had assists.
-The delay of game penalty sequence:
-And the goal:
-In overtime, Hagelin chased down a puck in the right wing corner and backhanded it to the left wing corner. Kessel settled the puck, allowed the play to develop and fed a pass back to Hagelin darting to the slot. Hagelin got a shot off despite pressure from Capitals defenseman Taylor Chorney. Holtby made the inital save with his right leg but couldn't deny Bonino chipping the rebound in with a backhand. Assists went to Hagelin and Kessel.
-Head coach Mike Sullivan is fond of chiding any reporters for referring to the Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin as the "second line." He'll ask, "Which one is the second line?" Regardless of what you want to label that line, it's pretty clear it was this team's top line tonight and throughout most of the series. They combined for six of the 15 goals the Penguins scored this series. And with centers Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin limited to one goal combined (by Malkin) this series, the top line - Kessel-Bonino-Hagelin line carried this team offensively to the Eastern Conference final.
-It's hard to get a read on Phil Kessel the person. You could talk to him after an 8-0 loss in which he had eight turnovers leading to all eight opposing goals and get the same type of temperament or responses from him if he had just set a modern-day scoring record himself. In one sense, he's a mystery. In another sense, he seems to be consistent in his personality. Tonight, he carried most of the load for his team's offense in an elimination game and it just seemed like a ho-hum game to him. He's as quixotic as he is talented.
-One key lineup decision in this game was the pairing of Dumoulin and Letang. With defneseman Olli Maatta returning from his suspected head injury, one would assume Letang and Maatta would be reunited but they opted to pair Letang and Dumoulin. They routinely saw time against Ovechkin's line in five on five and Dumoulin particularly took it upon himself to get physical with the 240-pound Ovechkin knocking him to the ice routinely. We'll have more about this duo tomorrow on the blog but they were really key to this win.
-Murray maybe showed a few chinks in his armor tonight. He could have made a stop on Williams' goal or even Carlson's score in the five-on-three situations. But at that stage, the Capitals were so desperate to get back in the game. He made some tougher saves down the stretch and put his team in position to get the game to overtime. He earned this win and earned the right to start Game 1 against the Lightning.
-Getting some production out of the power play was an important development too. After largely being a non-factor, the power play feasted on Orpik's double minor and seemingly buried the Capitals in the second period. Just getting some confidence for this group going into the next round is critical.
-We're not sure how to fairly evaluate the penalty kill. The Oshie goal was far too easy for the Capitals. But they did a remarkable job in the third period despite allowing Carlson's goal on the second five-on-three situation. THe Capitals could have done a lot more damage with their dangerous power play but the Penguins limited them.
-The Capitals defense was really hampered by defenseman Karl Alzner who left the game in the second period due to a groin injury. It's an ailment he's been battling through for several games and it finally did him in mid-way through this game. He's so important for them in terms of playing big and important minutes. It's really a marvel the Capitals were able to stage a comeback without him.
-As much scrutiny as the Penguins' top players - Crosby and Malkin - will get, and justly so, for limited production, the Capitals didn't get enough from some of their higher end players such as Ovechkin, center Evgeny Kuznetsov or Backstrom. It's almost as if the elite forward on each team canceled one another out.
-Orpik really turned into the goat of this game with his double minor penalty. Coming off his three-game suspension for injuring Maatta, he was booed most of the night any time he touched the puck then his former fans howled each of his penalties were converted into goals. Orpik is a proud and detail-oriented player and that had to be a tough pill to swallow.
-Holtby stole goals through most of the game but at the same time, he needed to steal one or two more. Holtby wasn't the reason the Capitals lost this series. He was very strong. At the same time, he wasn't strong enough to win it.
-Capitals center Jay Beagle saved his team's season - albeit temporarily - in overtime when he dove in his crease and blocked a would-be goal by Hornqvist:
-Letang described what happened with the delay of game penalty sequence:
"Bad luck. They were like that much over the glass. [Places fingers close together.] It's unbelievable. You're trying to make the simple play and it goes over. It's was a big character win. They had like three five-on-threes. I never saw that before. Guys focused. We allowed a goal but it's an unbelievable team we faced. It was fun to finish the third being tied and going to overtime."
-Sullivan was proud of how his team responded to the three penalties:
“I've never seen it in all the years I've been in the game, to have three delay of game penalties in a row like that. I thought our guys battled hard through it against a very good power play. What I've liked about this group is their resilience. When we got to the overtime, we just talked to them in between periods about taking a deep breath. Can't change what just happened. We've got to let it go and we've just got to play. … I know our leadership in our room was strong. And we just went out in the overtime and started to play again."
-Letang laughed at the bizarre sequence:
“I've never seen that. I don't know if you've ever seen anything like that but I didn't. I think we have to change our curves. Something like that. It's just a question of bad luck. Guys, they are working hard. They are trying to make a simple play and it goes over the glass."
-Letang described the mood of the team when Washington tied the game:
“Not good. Not good. Not good. You're under control and it all goes to [manure]. Sorry for the words but that's what it is. After that, I get called for another penalty. I was just praying in the box that we killed that off and go to overtime get the win.”
-Letang talked about the power play's success:
“I think we moved our feet. We supported each other and it opened up. They got out of position and we were able to find some seams.”
Letang joked about the "second" line's identity:
“Whatever line it is, it's got no number. That line is a big line for us. Got a lot of speed. They're smart. Got a guy like [Bonino] that is a great playmaker for those two speedy guys. They come out huge with big goals every game.”
-Letang liked playing with Dumoulin:
“He's a great two-way player. He's got good ability on his skates. He's got a great stick. So the coaching staff has no problem to put him against a top line.”
-Kessel was curt when asked to reflect on being in the Eastern Conference Final compared to being out of the playoffs with the Maple Leafs a year ago:
“A bit of difference, right?”
-Murray tried to recall the postgame celebration:
“I can't really remember to be honest. I just tried to sprint down the ice as fast as I can. I just remember [Hornqvist] tackling me to the ice. It's an unbelievable feeling.”
-Bonino, who is usually pretty in-depth in describing plays on the ice, was tongue-tied when asked to describe his goal:
"I can't really put it into words right now. Still got chills a little bit."
-After a little prodding, Bonino outlined the sequence:
"[Hagelin] drove the middle. Their [defenseman] made a good play. Phil went down low. I just went to the front. Let them cycle. The puck always ends up there. I was able to get a stick on it. It wasn't pretty but they're usually not.”
-Bonino talked about taking the second delay of game penalty:
"That was the worst feeling I think I ever had in hockey when I whacked the puck out of play and [Cole] did it after … and after [Kunitz] did it. That's something you'll never see."
-Defenseman Ben Lovejoy had a big picture outlook:
"It's a huge win for this team. But it's only win number 8. We've got to enjoy it tonight. We have the day off tomorrow. We're probably going try to get some sleep and then we'll come to work in two days and focus on the Tampa Bay Lightning.”
-Cole described the scene during the third intermission:
“It wasn't a big speech time. Sid said, “Guys, we've still got a game here. We're still in a decent spot. Obviously, we want to finish it out. Everyone knows that. We can't stop playing. We can't just fold this game. We're still in a great spot. One more goal and this game is over. What's in the past is in the past. We can't do anything about it now. Got to play. Got to be moving forward and continue to play hard.'”
-Capitals coach Barry Trotz, who congratulated the Penguins at his postgame press conference before taking questions, lauded the "second" line:
“The Hagelin line, the Bonino line. They seemed to be the group that scored all the time looking at the game. Ended up being really the difference.”
-Ovechkin summed things up from his team's perspective pretty well:
"Again, we lost in the second round. It [stinks]."
-Former Penguins defenseman Matt Niskanen was despondent:
"I think we're kind of shocked right now. … Hurts. It's amazing how if a series doesn't go your way, how fast it can slip away. I don't think we've comprehended what's happened yet.”
-The Penguins led in shots on net, 42-39.
-Hagelin led the game with eight shots.
-Kuznetsov, Ovechkin and left winger Jason Chimera each led the Capitals with six shots.
-Carlson led the game with 33:12 of ice time on 42 shifts.
-Letang led the Penguins with 30:28 of ice time on 41 shifts.
-The Penguins controlled faceoffs, 44-34 (56 percent).
-Crosby was 14 for 22 (64 percent).
-Capitals center Richards was 9 for 11 (75 percent).
-Carlson led the game with five blocked shots.
-Cole led the Penguins with three blocked shots.
-Bonino's overtime goal was the third of his postseason career and his second to clinch a series. He previously did it with the Ducks in Game 6 of a 2014 first round series vs. the Stars.
-That was the Penguins' first series-clinching overtime goal since Orpik scored in Game 6 of a 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series against the Islanders:
-It was the Penguins' first series-clinching overtime win at home since right winger Marian Hossa scored vs. the Rangers in a 2008 Eastern Conference semifinal series:
-The Penguins are now 8-1 all-time in playoff series vs. the Capitals. Oof.
-The Penguins made a little history which probably isn't the good type of history:
-This probably isn't good history either:
-Mike Lange is the best:
(Photos: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)