Four unanswered goals in the third period, including Jakub Vrana’s game-winning goal, catapulted the Washington Capitals over the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 on home ice at Capital One Arena on Saturday night.
The winner of Game 5 in all-time seven game series’s in NHL history has gone on to win the series 79-percent of the time. Maybe, just maybe, this is the Caps year (though they led the Penguins, 3-1 and 3-2 in the series in 2015 and, well…).
Braden Holtby made 36 saves on 39 shots against for the home team with a .923 save percentage in the win for the Capitals, while Penguins netminder, Matt Murray, stopped 26 shots out of 30 shots faced for an .867 SV% in 58:36 time on ice.
Early in the action, Jamie Oleksiak (1) scored his first career Stanley Cup Playoff goal as he fired a shot from the point that beat Holtby thanks to a screen in front of the Washington netminder by his Penguins teammate, Conor Sheary.
Derick Brassard (3) and Sheary (3) had the assists on Oleksiak’s goal and Pittsburgh led, 1-0, at 2:23 of the first period.
Almost five minutes later, Capitals defender, Matt Niskanen, took the game’s first penalty as he was called for holding Penguins forward, Phil Kessel. Pittsburgh did not score on the ensuing player advantage.
Chad Ruhwedel hooked Alex Ovechkin past the midway point of the first period and the Caps went on their first power play of the night— though it was to no avail. Washington spent too much time on their first special teams advantage making passes and looking to set up the perfect play.
Late in the period, Dominik Simon tripped Niskanen and the Capitals went back on the power play at 17:11.
About a minute into the power play, Washington worked the puck deep into the zone and around the boards where Evgeny Kuznetsov slipped a pass to John Carlson at the point.
Carlson (3) winded up and let go of a rocket of a slap shot, high-glove side, past Murray and tied the game, 1-1, with a power play goal. Kuznetsov (6) and T.J. Oshie (3) notched the assists on Carlson’s goal at 18:22 of the first period.
Washington kept pressing as play resumed even strength and Brett Connolly (2) sent one through Murray’s five-hole thanks, in part, to a deflection off of a Pens player and the Capitals had their first lead of the night, 2-1, 33 seconds after Carlson’s tying goal.
Jakub Vrana (2) and Lars Eller (4) were credited with the primary and secondary assists on Connolly’s goal.
In the closing seconds of the period, Ovechkin caught Pittsburgh defender, Brian Dumoulin, with a slash and was sent to the sin bin at 19:58 of the first. The Penguins power play would carry into the second period as the first period came to a close on the ensuing faceoff in Pittsburgh’s attacking zone.
After one period, Washington had a 2-1 lead on the scoreboard and shots on goal were even, 13-13. Pittsburgh led in blocked shots (7-4), takeaways (3-2) and giveaways (6-3), while the Caps led in hits (8-6). The Pens had an advantage in the faceoff circle, having won 56 percent of faceoffs taken in the first 20 minutes of play.
Pittsburgh was 0/2 on the power play and the Capitals were 1/2 on the man advantage heading into the first intermission.
After being released from the sin bin from carry over time at the end of the first period, Ovechkin slashed Evgeni Malkin 4:24 into the second period and the Penguins went on their third power play of the night as a result.
It didn’t take long for them to convert.
Kessel fired a wrist shot from the faceoff circle to Holtby’s right in the attacking zone and Sidney Crosby (9) got enough of his stick on it to deflect the puck past the Washington goaltender, tying the game, 2-2, at 4:43 of the second period. Kessel (7) and Justin Schultz (6) had the assists on Crosby’s power play goal.
Devante Smith-Pelly followed up with the run of penalties by Washington, having tripped up Penguins defenseman, Brian Dumoulin at 6:57 of the second period.
Less than a minute into the power play, Pittsburgh forced a scramble in front of Holtby’s net, wherein Patric Hornqvist (5) poked away and potted the puck in the back of the twine to give the Penguins a one-goal lead with their second power play goal of the night.
Malkin (4) and Kessel (8) notched the assists on the goal that made it, 3-2, Pens with over half a game left to be played.
Smith-Pelly took another trip— ironically for tripping Carl Hagelin— to the penalty box late in the second period, but Pittsburgh was not able to convert on the ensuing 5-on-4 advantage.
Crosby took a quick trip to the sin bin for hooking Eller late in the period and the Capitals were not able to muster anything on the power play as the minutes winded down in the second period.
After 40 minutes of play, Pittsburgh led, 3-2, on the scoreboard and in shots on goal, 31-18. The Penguins also dominated blocked shots (15-6) and led in hits (17-15) and takeaways (5-2). Washington had an advantage in giveaways (10-9) and faceoff win percentage (52-48). The Pens were 2/5 on the power play and the Caps were 1/3 on the skater advantage through two periods.
Kuznetsov (6) didn’t waste any time coming out of the gates in the third period, receiving a stretch pass and leading the charge on his own breakaway that resulted in a goal just 52 seconds into the third.
Vrana (3) and Niskanen (3) had the assists on the goal and the game was tied, 3-3.
Late in the third, after both goaltenders made save-after-save, Holtby made a desperation save that led to the Capitals taking advantage of a goofy line change by the Penguins as Ovechkin was tearing throw the neutral zone.
Pulling Murray far from the center of the crease, Ovechkin slid the puck back to Vrana (2) who had a gaping hole in the goal to put the puck in the back of the twine. Ovechkin (6) and Kuznetsov (7) had the assists on Vrana’s lead change inducing goal at 15:22 of the third period and Washington was in control of the scoreboard, 4-3.
Mike Sullivan pulled his goaltender for an extra skater with under two minutes remaining in regulation in search of a spark that could lead to a goal for Pittsburgh.
Things did not go as planned as Oshie (5) stripped Kessel of the puck in Washington’s defensive zone and fired a laser into the empty net from center ice to give the Capitals a two-goal lead, 5-3, at 18:29 of the third.
Sullivan then used his only timeout to settle his veteran team, recollect everyone’s thoughts and find a way to score two goals (at least) in the final 91 seconds of regulation play.
With 80 seconds left, Murray was once again able to vacate the goal for the extra skater.
With six seconds left, Eller (3)– having already jumped on a loose puck– put the game away on an empty net goal, 6-3, for Washington.
In all, nine different goal scorers combined led to a thrilling, offense-packed, Game 5 at Capital One Arena that saw the home team Capitals take a 3-2 series lead.
Washington had won the game, 6-3, and led in giveaways (15-12) after the 60 minute effort. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh’s going back home for Game 6 knowing they at least led in shots on goal (39-32), blocked shots (17-12), hits (28-26) and faceoff win percentage (51-49) in their loss in Game 5.
Barry Trotz’s Capitals can close out the series on the road at PPG Paints Arena in Game 6 on Monday. Puck drop is expected to be a little after 7:00 p.m. ET and viewers in the United States can catch the action on NBCSN, while fans in Canada can see the game on Sportsnet or TVAS.