The first major occurrence of the game was actually an injury to Bryan Rust. Only 19 seconds into his opening shift, he blocked a shot hard enough to require him to head to the dressing room. He did not return for even the second period.
Although Washington fired four shots on goal in the first 6:37 of play, it was the Penguins who scored the first goal – on their first shot on net, in fact. Patric Hornqvist is the responsible party with his tip-in on Trevor Daley’s initial attempt, with another assist from Conor Sheary. Shear collected a deflected Sidney Crosby shot from the far corner to Daley at the point. Daley fired a slap shot from the blue line that Hornqvist tipped past Braden Holtby.
Exactly a minute later, Tom Kuhnhackl completed a breakaway attempt by Matt Cullen and Kris Letang (his sixth assist of the postseason) with a scoring wrister to give the Pens an early 2-0 lead. After receiving the first pass off the face-off, Letang connected with Cullen on a long pass from the defensive zone to the offensive zone. Cullen crossed a pass across the crease for Kuhnhackl to redirect into net past Holtby’s left skate.
The Capitals continued their mini-implosion when Justin Williams committed an interference penalty against Derrick Pouliot, but Pouliot returned the favor with a hooking penalty against Jay Beagle with about half a minute remaining on the penalty to end the power play. When Washington received their 90’ish seconds of the man-advantage, they were as effective as the Penguins, leaving the score at 2-0 when the sin bins completely emptied.
Letang threw a questionable late hit on or near Marcus Johansson’s head with 4:19 remaining in the period that was generously ruled only a two-minute interference call, but Letang did seem to leave his feet. Luckily for Pens fans, the penalty kill once again stood tall to neutralize the Caps‘ ensuing power play. Unlike Rust, Johansson did return to the game before the second period.
Daniel Winnik took offense to Letang’s hit, so with 1:51 remaining in the frame, he slashed the defenseman, giving the Pens a power play for the remainder of the period. Just like Pittsburgh‘s first man-advantage, they ended it early when Phil Kessel knocked T.J. Oshie’s stick out of his hands with a slash.
Although Pittsburgh was leading on the scoreboard, Washington had the lead in shots (14-9, respectively), face-off winning percentage (59%-41%, respectively) and hits (19-nine, respectively). The quickest stat to attribute Pittsburgh’s success was their four takeaways, especially compared to the Caps‘ goose egg.
Washington would return to the ice with a 1:13 power play after nine seconds of four-on-four hockey. With another kill, the Penguins‘ set their penalty kill rate at 89.7%, the fourth best of the playoffs.
The lone penalty of the second period belonged to Justin Williams at the 6:30 mark, a tripping call against Eric Fehr. But, just like all the other power plays in the contest, the score was the same 2-0 after those two minutes.
With 4:57 remaining in the second period, Second Star Carl Hagelin fired a pure wrist shot after assists from Nick Bonino (his eighth helper of the playoffs) and Kessel to set the differential at three goals, which held to the final horn of the frame. Kessel intercepted a Capitals pass near the blue line and passed into the crease to Bonino. Bonino had to move to Holtby’s glove side to control the puck and took advantage of the aggressive goaltender advancing out of the crease to squeeze the puck into the crease, allowing Hagelin to finish the score.
Once again, the Capitals led the period’s shot totals by eight attempts, but the Penguins took advantage of the face-off dot (54%), blocks (11 to five, respectively) and takeaways (six to two). Washington proved to bring the heat along the boards, as through only 40 periods, they had accumulated 41 hits on the home team.
Washington finally got on the board at the 8:02 mark of the final frame with a wrister from Third Star Alex Ovechkin, who was assisted by Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom (his sixth helper of the postseason). After the Penguins cleared the puck to the neutral zone, Niskanen brought the puck back past the blue line before passing to the trailing Ovechkin, who fired his top shelf wrister over Murray’s glove shoulder.
Hagelin committed the first penalty of the final period with a tripping penalty against John Carlson at the 6:41 mark. Just like they had all night, Murray and the Penguins‘ penalty kill completed their fourth infraction neutralization.
With a little over two minutes remaining, Holtby was called to the bench for an extra attacker. It paid off with 54 seconds remaining in regulation when Williams scored his first goal of the playoffs, a wrister assisted by Ovechkin and Carlson (his sixth helper of the postseason), but the Caps were unable to level.
Holtby ended the night with the loss, saving 20 of 23 (87%).
Game 4 between these squads will occur Wednesday at 8 p.m. eastern. That game can be viewed on CBC, NBCSN and TVAS.