Caps' Wilson suspended — Can Pens come back in series against Washington? (Observations from the Edge, with the Courier's Lee Kann)

The Pens’ Jake Guentzel has played well in this, his second postseason in his young career. The Pens, as of Thursday afternoon, May 3, are down 2 games to 1 in the best-of-seven series with the Washington Capitals. Game 3 is Thursday night, May 3, in Pittsburgh. (AP Photo)

It didn’t take long for the drama to begin.  The Washington Capitals have something to prove (mostly to themselves) and they mean business, apparently.  They aren’t going to lay down to the Pittsburgh Penguins again, like in so many passing years.  Conversely, the Pens have little to affirm.  They are the champs…but for how long…till next year or till next week?  Let’s break it down a bit…

In game 1, the hometown Capitals came to play, and the Malkin-less and Haglin-less Penguins, well…  In the first period, just as those placards say in D.C…it was ALL CAPS.  Washington’s “Geno,” Evgeny Kuznetsov, scored a mere 17 seconds into the game.  The Penguin defense was asleep at the wheel, giving up too many odd-man breaks.  And the Pens had their chances, as Dominik Simon hit the pipes twice, but Braden Holtby did the rest for the Caps in goal, with some very timely saves.  The second period was the same…with more pucks off the iron for the Pens and more saves by Holtby…although Matt Murray’s play kept the Pens in this thing.

In the third, the Caps did it again, scoring in the first 30 seconds of the period, as once again, the Penguin defense broke down, and (the-soon-to-be-villain) Washington’s Tom Wilson scored on another odd man rush…a shot Murray could have had.  But a 2-0 lead is hockey’s most dangerous.  Patric Hornqvist, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel all scored in less than five minutes of each other.  Hornqvist deflected a Justin Schultz blue line shot and Guentzel deflected a Crosby shot past Holtby in close.  Matt Murray stood tall throughout the third period, stopping 17 shots, including Brett Connolly’s wide open net, would-have-been tying goal.  Grand theft doesn’t aptly delineate the embezzlement of game one from the Washington Capitals, 3-2.

In game 2, it’s Deja Vu, as Alexander (who else?) Ovechkin scores over Matt Murray’s glove in less than 90 seconds of the contest. Then Jakub Vrana scores later in the period over Murray’s glove.  Not trusting their two goal leads anymore (losing four in the playoffs), the Caps’ Brett Connolly scores through Murray’s glove and it is 3-0.  Murray’s two previous goals allowed in game one were over the glove, too.  Hmmmmm.

Are you wondering? 

Both Crosby and Guentzel were denied exquisite chances by Holtby later in the period before a Kris Letang shot was deflected in by Guentzel.  The Pens were crawling back into the match with a 3-2 goal by Patric Hornqvist that was subsequently denied by the situation room in Toronto.  Add to that (now-to-be-villain) Tom Wilson’s head shot that took Brian Dumoulin out of the game, and you are long on heavy suspense that maybe even Alfred Hitchcock couldn’t muster up for a game three in Pittsburgh.  It ends 4-1 Capitals.

In game 3, Evgeni Malkin and Brian Dumoulin both returned.  For Malkin, he added the missing energy in game two and the Penguins came out much stronger in this first period, but it didn’t matter in the end. The Pens took three tripping penalties in the first and Brian Rust tipped a shot from the Caps’ John Carlson past Murray and into his own net. Then Murray had two Washington shots go through him but with the hockey gods looking on, both managed to squeak just wide of the posts. Guentzel tied it at 1-1 on yet another deflected shot from Justin Schultz that came from the blue line.

As for Brian Dumoulin (#8), he came back to keep goal-scorer Alex Ovechkin (#8) in check, which became an exercise in how a man plays stout defense.  He must have drove Ovechkin crazy, smothering him for a greater portion of the game.  Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the villain Tom Wilson delivered another crushing hit, this time on Zach Aston-Reese, sending him bloody to the locker room.  Wilson was suspended by the league for the next three postseason games. He’s eligible to come back in game 7 if the series goes that far. 

Both teams played with a game seven ruthlessness.  The Penguin power-play goal stash was empty (0-7) until Horqvist scored one off of a Holtby rebound of a Malkin shot.  All of a sudden, Pittsburgh had the lead. The Caps tied it at two on Chandler Stephenson’s break away goal.  Then Jake Guentzel fed Sidney Crosby, who was shooting from one knee at the right dot, and scored to take the lead again.  But ex-Pen Matt Niskanen tied it up on a shot that went through Matt Murray yet again, and it was tied 3-3.  The Penguins had a measly three shots in the final period when defenseman Ollie Maatta committed an infelicitous giveaway, allowing Alexander Ovechkin to have the last laugh, when he scored within 67 seconds of this affair going to overtime, giving the Caps a 4-3 win and 2-1 series lead.

After three games, I have questions…

When will “The Phil” (Kessel) give us “The Thrill?”

When will Derek Brassard make me stop grieving over losing Ian Cole?

When will the Pens put the kibosh on giving up odd-man rushes?

When will the empty power play work? (Thank God for the effective penalty kill).

When will the Pens start hitting people with intensity, as in…hitting back?

And lastly, but certainly not least-ly, when will Matt Murray start doing handstands and cartwheels?

Any one of these items alone could make the difference between my baby Stanley Cup back on the dresser, sooner than later.  Any of them in combination most certainly would. And in case you haven’t been watching, some other goalie not named Murray has been standing on his head.  His name is Fleury…maybe you’ve heard of him…he plays for Las Vegas.  After Vegas swept the LA Kings in four games and won game one of their second round series with San Jose, his numbers looked like this…goals against (0.65), save percentage (.973), wins (5), losses (0), shut outs (3).  Yikes!  

As Vegas now leads San Jose 2-1, Fleury is now a paltry 6-1, with a GAA (1.23) and a save pct. (.960).  He is no longer super human, he is now simply extraordinary.  That’s who Murray, whose numbers don’t remotely resemble Fleury’s, may well be facing in the finals, if the Penguins ever get there.  

Talk about drama?  

( Lee Kann is a media producer and freelance writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier. )


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