It’s been since December 30 that Matt Murray last lost in CONSOL Energy Center, as he bested the Washington Capitals 4-3 in overtime to set up a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Finals.
Second Star of the Game Phil Kessel opened the scoring for the Pens at the 5:41 mark, assisted by Brian Dumoulin and Carl Hagelin. Kris Letang caused a turnover in the defensive zone while the Caps were entering that was collected by Hagelin. Once he reached the blue line, he passed to Dumoulin, who immediately shoved the puck along to Phil the Thrill. Kessel advanced into the offensive zone along the near boards and fired once he reached the top side of the face-off circle, beating Braden Holtby’s right pad.
Pittsburgh not only led Washington on the scoreboard, but they also had more shots on goal (11 to 10), face-offs (57%), takeaways (two to none) and hits (24 to 12).
In his first game back since being suspended, Brooks Orpik committed a double minor hi sticking penalty against Patric Hornqvist at the 6:25 mark of the second period. Pittsburgh quickly made him pay when Kessel connected on a wrister 40 seconds later, assisted by Letang (his seventh helper of the playoffs) and Chris Kunitz. Kunitz fought off Matt Niskanen until he got to the blue line, where he barely managed to keep the puck in the zone before passing to Letang. The defenseman quickly dished to Kessel near the far face-off dot, who traveled across the crease before beating sprawling Holtby’s left skate.
The second half of the penalty was equally as successful for Pittsburgh, as Hagelin tipped-in Olli Maatta’s initial shot, with another assist from Trevor Daley (his fifth helper of the postseason), 33 seconds later. First Star Nick Bonino had the puck along the far boards, but dumped back to the blue line for Daley, who shoved the puck across the zone for Hagelin. He fired a slap shot from almost the same spot he received his pass, and Hagelin, who had already been acting as a screen in front of the crease, redirected the puck under Holtby’s stick.
Ex-Capital Eric Fehr committed a penalty with 6:02 remaining in the frame for interference against T.J. Oshie, but the Penguins‘ penalty kill stood tall to keep the Capitals scoreless.
The next penalty also belonged to the Penguins, as Kunitz was caught tripping Marcus Johansson with 2:23 remaining in the frame. This power play was much more successful for the Capitals, as Oshie connected on a snap shot after an assist from Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin only 53 seconds after Kunitz took his seat. Ovi had the puck near the near boards at the blue line, and dumped it further into the zone along the wall where Backstrom corralled it along the far boards at the goal line. He centered a pass for Oshie, who scored over Murray’s stick shoulder.
After 40 minutes, the Penguins still led the scoreboard 3-1, but also shots (23 to 18), hits (36 to 25) and face-offs (57%).
The first penalty of the third period belonged to Ovechkin for slashing Tom Kuhnhackl 3:54 into the period, but Washington would not yield their third power play goal so easily, leaving the goal differential at two tallies.
Washington cut the lead to only a goal at the 7:23 mark when Justin Williams connected on a wrister over Murray’s glove hand, assisted by Backstrom (his ninth helper of the postseason). Backstrom collected the puck along the near boards and dumped behind Murray’s net to Williams, who approached around the goaltender’s stick side before scoring over his glove shoulder.
Kunitz earned his second seat in the sin bin with 9:28 remaining in regulation when he sent the puck over the glass. Bonino did the exact same thing in attempts to clear the puck out of the crease 1:06 later, resulting in 54 seconds of five-on-three and 3:06 total of the man-advantage. Pittsburgh withstood the five-on-three, but only two seconds later Ian Cole sent a puck over the glass, sending the Penguins back to the five-on-three for 1:04.
The Capitals leveled on this opportunity when Third Star John Carlson connected on slap shot with 6:59 remaining in regulation, assisted by Ovechkin (his seventh helper of the playoffs) and Williams. Carlson had the puck at the point, but passed to Ovechkin towards the near boards along the blue line. Ovi returned the favor to the defensemen near the far face-off circle, who fired a slap shot to beat Murray stick side.
1:32 remained on Cole’s penalty, but Pittsburgh finally returned to even-strength without another Capitals score.
Washington returned to the power play with 2:46 remaining in regulation when Letang was charged with interference against Oshie. During the man advantage, Oshie took a questionable uncalled slash from a Penguins defender strong enough to send him to the dressing room. It might be argued that it had a negative effect on the Capitals‘ power play, as the score remained the same to the end of regulation, forcing overtime. Oshie did return to the ice for the overtime period.
Just as the scoreboard was tied, so were the combined totals of some important statistics. Washington led the first 60 minutes in shots (36 to 35), blocks (19 to 13) and giveaways (five to eight), while Pittsburgh owned the face-off dot (59%), takeaways (seven to three) and hits (42 to 34).
The Penguins had thought they’d won the game 2:44 into the overtime period, but neither Daley nor Hornqvist’s attempts could find the back of Holtby’s net, thanks in part to Jay Beagle’s diving block into the goal.
Overtime, and the Eastern Semifinals, lasted only 6:32 minutes more after regulation ended before Bonino scored a series-clinching wrister, assisted by Hagelin and Kessel. Bonino collected the puck at the offensive blue line and advanced into the zone. He attempted a wrister from the top of the near face-off circle that was blocked by Taylor Chorney towards the boards, but collected by Hagelin and shoved behind Holtby’s net. Kessel collected in the corner and centered a pass for Hagelin that was saved by Holtby’s right pad, but the rebound was collected by Bonino and backhanded into net to avoid the Game 7.
Murray saved 36 of 39 shots faced to earn the victory (92.3%), while Holtby takes the overtime loss, saving 38 of 42 (90.5%).
The Penguins advance to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2013 (a four-game sweep against the Boston Bruins) and will face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Dates and times for that series have yet to be determined.