WASHINGTON – After the Capitals scored early, the Penguins scored often to stun their rivals with yet another comeback.
Patric Hornqvist, Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel scored in a 4:49 span to help Pittsburgh erase a two-goal deficit in the third period and the Penguins beat Washington 3-2 on Thursday night in Game 1 of the second-round series.
Showing no panic from allowing a goal to Evgeny Kuznetsov 17 seconds into the game and another to Alex Ovechkin 28 seconds into the third period, the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions took another series lead in typical Penguins fashion.
Playing without injured forwards Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin, Pittsburgh naturally fed off Crosby, who had a goal and an assist.
“Right from Sid, he led the way for us and it’s right down the lineup,” said Guentzel, who had a goal and two assists and leads the playoffs with 16 points. “You can’t get down. There’s going to be highs and lows throughout the whole series. You’ve got to stick with it to the end and we were happy to get three and end up winning the game.”
Matt Murray stopped 32 of 34 shots, keeping the Penguins in the game and maintaining the lead late with a sprawling stick save on Brett Connolly with 2:30 left. Unsure of what would happen at the other end of the rink with Braden Holtby dialed in, Murray could only keep the puck out as much as possible after allowing the early-period goals to Kuznetsov and Ovechkin.
Murray denied Michal Kempny from point-blank range and kept the puck out from a hard-charging Devante Smith-Pelly early and missed no opportunity to give the Penguins the impressive stop when they needed it.
“I thought he was locked in all night long,” coach Mike Sullivan said. “He made some big saves for us, especially when they were pressing down the stretch there. … When you get those types of saves, it’s easy to play with some confidence in front of him.”
Murray couldn’t predict a furious comeback, but he wasn’t shocked, either. Not after Pittsburgh has won nine consecutive playoff series dating to 2016, including two against these Capitals.
“There’s going to be good things that happen out there and there’s going to be bad things that happen out there,” Murray said. “It’s about how you respond. We did a good job of that.”
The Capitals gave the Penguins a couple of solid punches in the series opener but didn’t respond well when some bounces went against them early in the third. A deflection goal by Hornqvist, a puck that went off Ovechkin’s stick to Crosby and then a redirection by Guentzel took the air out of the building and ruined a strong start by Holtby.
“Obviously, some things we’d like to work on,” said Holtby, who stopped all 17 shots through two periods before allowing three on eight in the third. “Same time, their goals they scored, they were kind of strange plays, especially the last one. It was one of those that’s just a weird bounce.”
Washington blew a two-goal lead for the fourth time in seven games in these playoffs, but players felt they handled this better than situations in the first round against Columbus.
“Those three shifts, they score,” said Kuznetsov, whose goal was the second-fastest in Capitals playoff history. “I feel like they got momentum, and then they score again and again.”
As even as the play was, a handful of mistakes were enough to put the Penguins up going into Game 2 Sunday afternoon. Sullivan already sees opportunities to cut down on chances against, and his players think they can be better as the series goes on.
“It’s one game, we did some good things,” Crosby said. “I think in any playoff series, it’s just about getting better with every game.”
NOTES: The Capitals have killed 18 consecutive penalties dating to Game 2 against Columbus. .., Malkin skated Thursday morning with teammates, while Hagelin did not make the trip. Malkin could be an option for Game 2 if his apparent leg injury has healed enough.
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