Observations from the Penguins' 3-2 overtime win against the Capitals in Game 4:
The Capitals had an opportunity to tie this series. The table was set. The Penguins were playing without all-everything defenseman Kris Letang or his partner Olli Maatta. The Capitals staked out an early lead. They generated quality chances most of the game. This was their opportunity to take this series back home with a tie.
They failed to do so.
"We didn't' take advantage of it," surmised Capitals coach Barry Trotz.
This game was by far the most even of the series to this point. Neither team really had sustained pressure for more than a shift all that often. Both teams played fairly safe conservative games but were able to generate a fair amount of quality chances. It came down to a handful of fluky goals and mistakes on either side.
The Penguins were able to take advantage of a favorable matchup in overtime and claim this win and a near stranglehold on the series.
The Capitals took the game's first lead with some luck 2:58 into regulation. Right winger Tom Wilson controlled a puck at the center red line on the right wing and flipped it down ice to the left wing corner. Capitals center Jay Beagle beat defenseman Ben Lovejoy to the puck which took a unique hop off the end boards to the goal line. Beagle chopped the puck with a backhander which fluttered over Murray's head and into the cage. It was a strange but poor goal for the Penguins to allow. Wilson and former Penguin defenseman Taylor Chorney got assists.
The Penguins got a little lucky on their own at the 9:16 mark. Right winger Patric Hornqvist gained the offensive zone on the right wing and left a drop pass for defenseman Trevor Daley at the right point. Daley gripped and ripped a wrister which Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner leaned down to block. Alzner got a good piece of the puck but it still had enough inertia to keep progressing towards the net, albeit on a different route. Goaltender Braden Holtby didn't have enough time to adjust to the puck and allowed it to slide through his five hole. Daley got credit for the goal. Assists went to Hornqvist and center Sidney Crosby.
They made it a 2-1 game at 3:07 of the second period. Off a faceoff at center ice, Defenseman Brian Dumoulin dealt a pass to right winger Tom Kuhnhackl who deflected the puck up the left wing boards up the ice. Center Matt Cullen motored behind Capitals center Nicklas Backstrom and attacked the net. He fired a forehand shot which beat Holtby though the five hole. Kuhnhackl and Dumoulin had assists.
The Capitals tied the game, 2-2, with 3:41 left in the second period. After defenseman Derrick Pouliot lost a puck in the right wing corner, right winger Justin Williams fed a pass to defenseman John Carlson all alone in the right circle. Carlson ripped a wrister by Murray's glove hand on the near side. Williams had the lone assist.
After a scoreless third period, the game moved to overtime. After Daley had a shot attempt from the slot blocked by Capitals left winger Jason Chimera, defenseman Brian Dumoulin made a composed play at center point by keeping the puck in the blue line and fed a backhand pass to left winger Conor Sheary at the left wing wall. Moving back to the left point, Sheary forced a pass to Crosby to the left of the crease but Capitals defenseman Mike Weber intercepted the pass. Weber was unable to control the puck and ended up "passing" it to Hornqvist darting into the right circle. Hornqvist one-touched the puck through Holtby's five hole to win the game:
The Penguins' defense for the most part elevated its game. It wasn't perfect. There were breakdowns but the defensemen mostly played within their limitations and each took up a piece of the workload Letang usually inhabits.
-Daley took on the biggest workload as he logged 28:41 of ice time on 35 shifts. He was so composed and so poised throughout out most of this game as he has been since joining the Penguins. He really has proven to be an effective supplement as well as replacement to Letang this season.
-Daley's partner tonight, Dumoulin, once again played a quietly effective game. From the season opener to tonight, he has been this team's most reliable blue liner.
-Defenseman Justin Schultz paired with Ian Cole tonight and looked really steady as well. Schultz even helped spring Cole on a two-on-one sequence at one point. For someone who had been a scratch for seven consecutive games, Schultz looked pretty sharp.
-The Lovejoy-Pouliot duo struggled quite a bit mostly due to Pouliot's own struggles. He looked like he was really fighting the puck at times tonight. He had turnovers and just looked overwhelmed by the Capitals' speed at times. We have a hard time seeing him return to the lineup for Game 5 with Letang's presumed return.
-Murray shook off a bad first goal and once again buttoned things down for his team to get a tie and ultimately a win. Any sense of surprise by his success has long vanished. You expect this out of him on a game to game basis at this point.
At one point in the third period, Crosby was slashed on the left hand by Capitals captain/left winger Alex Ovechkin and left the game for several shifts:
-He ultimately returned to the game and finished it. After the game, he reported no lingering issues with the hand. Crosby said it was an innocent play after the game (See more in the "Quotable" section.)
-Cullen is such a marvel at 39. For all the hype superstars like Panthers right winger Jaromir Jagr or Avalanche right winger Jarome Iginla get, and justly so, for their accomplishments at their ages, Cullen's contributions at age 39 are quite impressive in their own right. He's playing some hard, physical minutes on the fourth line as well as the penalty kill and he still finds ways to net a fair amount of goals. He was one of the Penguins' best players in this game especially playing against the Capitals' top line much of the night.
-Right winger Bryan Rust returned to the lineup after missing most of Game 3 due to a "lower-body" injury. For someone who might have been dealing with some issues as far as skating was concerned, he seemed okay. He was a ball of energy playing primarily on a line with center Evgeni Malkin.
-Center Oskar Sundqvist played on the fourth line on the right wing was was hardly spectacular. He didn't make any errors and played a clean game.
-The Penguins had three power plays in this game and failed to score on any of them. They even had a power play with 3:38 left in regulation and barely posed a threat. It's been quite a let down with this unit after it ripped up the first round vs. the Rangers.
-The Capitals' top line of Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom and left winger T.J. Oshie was mostly a non-factor. The Capitals need more, MUCH more, from these players.
-The same applies to center Evgeny Kuznetsov. He has been invisible this series.
-The Capitals defense seems to be be feeling the effects of not having Brooks Orpik. He's hardly a speed demon and has had some struggles of his own against the Penguins' speed but he gives them a better option than the likes of Weber who was in the lineup tonight. If the Capitals can get this to a Game 6, Orpik will be a welcome addition.
-Holtby was once again more than adequate. He is not the reason his team is in a 3-1 hole.
-Left winger Daniel Winnik and center Jay Beagle each left the game at various points and returned due to various injuries. Trotz said they would be "fine" to play in Game 5.
-Head coach Mike Sullivan was high on his defense:
"I thought they were terrific, the whole group of them. It wasn't a perfect game by any stretch but we're playing against a pretty good opponent and [Letang] is a tough guy to replace. He's an elite player so a lot of guys had to step up and play more minutes, play more significant roles. I thought the group of them did a tremendous job."
-Crosby spoke about the effort by the defensemen with Letang absent:
"You're used to seeing [Letang] fly up and down the ice and join the rush obviously. You probably don't see that quite as much. I think the thing I think the whole [defensive] corps did was just do what they do well to a man. They got in shots lanes when they needed to. We got some great looks in the point from a lot of them. I mean, I don't see [defenseman Ian Cole] joining on a two-on-one too often but he did it tonight because it was there. I think they just made the right plays. No one tried to be [Letang] out there. They just tried to play their game. That was huge for us. He's a guy that plays a ton of minutes and they did a great job handling it all.”
-Cole spoke highly of Daley:
"[Daley] played unbelievable. I saw he was through 20 minutes through two periods. He was unbelievable. But I think everyone took a chunk of that. Everyone took a chunk. No one is going to be able to be able to play 35 and do it like [Letang] does it but I think everyone can chip in and take a few extra minutes and do it very well. I think we did a very good job of that tonight."
-Cole liked his team's play after a less than stellar Game 3:
"Anyone that watched the game could see we got outplayed in Game 3 and I think today we certainly had quite a few chances to win it in regulation. We put together a much better effort on defense [and] on offense holding on to pucks, getting out of our end a lot quicker, not getting trapped in as much. So yeah, I think it was a much better effort all around."
-Rust talked about the tempo of the game:
"Yeah. There were momentum swings back and forth. We pushed. They obviously came out hard. They had that really early goal. We had a good response. We pushed back. We got the lead. They pushed back. They had some really good shifts in the third. We had some really good shifts in third. Each team did. We got the break in overtime and [Hornqvist] was able to bury it."
-Crosby's dismissed any suggestion of ill will by Ovechkin on his slash:
“Yeah, I thought it was worse than it was. I don't think it was anything other than that. Initially, you think you're maybe not coming back. It's not a great feeling. I don't think it's any intention there. He's trying to clear it. I'm trying to keep a puck in. He's trying to make sure that I don't. He caught me there but that's part of it. … Things happen out there.”
-Crosby lauded Hornqvist:
“Oh yeah. 'Horny,' he just works so hard. He's the hardest working guy out there every single night. He just sets the example with the way he works. He'll do whatever it takes to win games whether it's standing in front taking those extra shots or getting a puck out blocking a shot. It's all about winning for him. He shows that with the way he competes, the way he plays every single day.”
-Sullivan was keen on Hornqvist as well:
“It's hard not to love this guy. He just loves hockey. He loves being around it. He loves to compete. He's full of energy. He wears his emotions right on his sleeve, sometimes to a fault. But we love him. We love what he brings to this team. He plays the game in the battle areas. He goes to the net. He does a lot of those thankless jobs that you can't necessary quantify. But it helps lines be successful and it helps teams win. He takes tons of crosschecks in front of the net to provide screens on our power play or even our five on five play. To see him get rewarded in overtime for us is a thrill because he is really is a great teammate and passionate about the game."
-Crosby broke down what he saw on Daley's goal:
“I don't know if it got blocked somehow or maybe it deflected. I couldn't tell if it came back to him for a second shot. It kind of felt like it was coming pretty slow towards me and I wasn't sure if I was going to try to direct it or whatever and it just kind of went right by me through the goalie. So it was kind of a broken play. It was really tough. I was looking at the net, looking back at him. We had some speed off the rush. That probably backed them off a bit.”
-Cole and Rust, each Notre Dame products, missed on a two-on-one sequence in the second period. Cole jokingly blamed Rust:
"Hopefully a lot more often if [Rust] could maybe bury that when I dish it over to him. He claims he couldn't see it but I think it was just too good of a pass."
-Cole appreciated the officials letting things go tonight:
“I think that the [referees] are doing a great job in letting us kind of play. They're obviously making the calls when they need to but if you're battling hard, they'll give you the benefit of the doubt which I think is great. I think that's great. … I think everything is going to come out of the wash. I don't think that any team has gotten the better."
-Sullivan was big on Cullen tonight:
“He's at a stage in his career where he's just enjoying and embracing this challenge we have and this journey that we've been on. He's for the most part been playing with young kids beside him that are half his age. He's just been a great mentor. Game in and game out, he makes big plays for us. Sometimes they're subtle whether it be a faceoff or a penalty kill or a smart play with a stick in the [defensive] zone and sometimes they're plays everybody sees as far as scoring goals. But night in and night out, this guy makes important plays for our team to help us win and I thought tonight he was one of our best players.”
-Sullivan spoke about playing Rust tonight:
"Bryan Rust's decision [to play] was a literal game-time decision and I thought he was terrific. He brings so much speed to our lineup so regardless of what line we put him on, he helps us keep the puck. With the way he chases pucks down, I think he's hard to play against. He's in peoples' faces. He's finishing checks. He's going to the net. He takes people wide. When we don't have the puck, he chases people down. He puts defesemen under pressure so they've got to make plays quickly and a lot of times that forces errant passes. It allows our guys to get the puck back. That's what [Rust] has done for our team all year long. Obviously when he's in our lineup, we love what he brings. He brought that tonight which was a big key for us. I thought we missed him in Game 3 when we didn't have him. Number one, we're playing with a shorter bench which is harder in and of itself. But I really like what he brings as far as his quickness and his speed and his tenacity that helps our team become a tougher team to play against."
-Rust talked about his return:
"I felt great. I feel like my legs were there. I felt really good. I felt confident. It's always nice when you play with [Malkin]. Kind of just bumps the puck wide and I drive the net. He had a whole lot of shots there. A couple of rebounds that were just out of my reach. We were able to play good in the [offensive] zone. It's definitely nice not to be seriously hurt. ... It was up in the air pretty much all day. But I felt good enough to go so I was able to go."
-Rust spoke of the physical play in the series:
"It's a tough series. On top of it just being more physical because it's playoff hockey, you can see guys on both teams just want it so bad. Every guy on both teams, whether they're physical or not, they're throwing checks. They're playing the physical game. They're playing the grinder game and you can see it in both lineups, top to bottom."
Two off days will be big for Rust and others:
"Yeah. Rest is a tool to be used this time of year. Some guys need it. Some guys are a little banged up. It's definitely going to be nice to have that extra day."
-Murray keeps feeling it more and more each game:
"I definitely think I feel a little bit more and more comfortable and better and better the more I play. Made a couple of mistakes here and there. Got lucky a couple of times. Pretty happy with my game today. Thought I competed really hard."
Lovejoy joked about Letang's impending return:
"He better be rested and ready to play 42 minutes next game."
Trotz summed up what losing in overtime was like:
“That's why its sudden death. That's what it feels like. We'll have to deal with it. This group has dealt with a lot of things. I think they've dealt with a lot of things. I think they've handled adversity pretty well all year. We'll have to deal with it again. We've dug ourselves a hole and see if we can dig ourselves out of it."
-Alzner sees some signs of hope in how the series has gone:
"I think we've carried a lot of the play and that's a good sign. We've been wearing them down little bit by little bit. Putting a lot of pucks deep. Put a lot of pucks towards the net. And we've seen a lot of good chances. We had a two-on-one there in overtime. We've had opportunities so you can't get down on that. If we were getting run out of the building, a different story."
-The Capitals had a 36-33 lead in shots.
-Ovechkin led the game with seven shots.
-Dumoulin, center Nick Bonino, Malkin and Hornqvist each led the Penguins with three shots.
-Carlson led the Capitals with 30:15 of ice time.
-Daley led the Penguins with 28:41 of ice time.
-The Capitals led the game in faceoffs, 40-36 (53 percent).
-Kuznetsov was 12 for 18 (67 percent).
-Cullen was 14 for 25 (56 percent).
-Lovejoy led the game with three blocked shots.
-Defensemen Matt Niskanen, Chorney and Weber each led the Capitals with two blocked shots.
-The Penguins snapped an eight-game losing streak in playoff overtime contests. Their last win in such circumstances was a series-clinching 4-3 road victory against the Islanders in Game 6 of a 2013 Eastern Conference quarterfinal series. Orpik scored in overtime.
-This was their first overtime postseason home win in approximately seven years. Their last win under such circumstances was a 3-2 victory against the Capitals in Game 3 of a 2009 Eastern Conference semifinal series. Letang scored in overtime.
-Hornqvist works quick:
-Murray is going Moose hunting:
(Photos: Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)