With dozens of hats sailing to the Verizon Center playing surface and Chuck Brown’s “Bustin’ Loose” playing over the public address system, the ultimate outcome of the opening game in the Eastern Conference semifinals between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins lay still in doubt.
Fans begged for T.J. Oshie’s hat-trick goal, the game-winning wraparound 9:33 into the overtime session, to stand as called on the ice. The building’s pressure-cooker status reached its peak as referee Dan O’Rourke took off his headset after a review that seemingly lasted as long as this all-time playoff contest itself.
His affirmation of the goal resulted in a raucous scene of euphoria. What more often than not felt like the first round of a heavyweight title bout brought a 4-3 decision in favor of the hosts, the latest step in the to-be-determined journey of this team that, at least for now, wears the hopes of its city on its back.
Highlight-reel goals, thunderous hits, and the kind of electricity that perhaps only comes from a championship-starved town and were on full display throughout the night. Turnovers plagued the Capitals consistently, as it was the ill-timed giveaways – eight in total – that kept the Penguins within shouting distance or better the entire game.
Andre Burakovsky opened the scoring after a nearly-perfect 3-on-1 that saw Burakovsky feed Jason Chimera, who was unable to beat Pittsburgh goalie Matt Murphy. A juicy rebound bounced right to Burakovsky’s stick, who beat Murray after gathering and settling the bouncing biscuit.
It was a blue-collar goal from Oshie that gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead 3:23 into the third. His backhand got past Murray below the left pad 3:23 into the third, for his second of the game and third of the playoffs; the arena buzzed for the next several minutes.
Oshie’s tiebreaker came off an Ovechkin feed from the left circle as both players were bearing down in the Penguins’ zone. He delivered the puck just outside of Murray’s reach at an atypically fast speed for a slapshot; the young Pittsburgh netminder was a hair slow in getting the pad down.
Nick Bonino tied the game for Pittsburgh at 8:42 of the third, his first of the game after earning the primary assist on Ben Lovejoy’s goal that made it 1-1 around the midway point of the second. 57 seconds after Lovejoy’s first of the playoffs, Evgeny Malkin gave Pittsburgh a 2-1 lead. Oshie again brought the affairs level with an unassisted breakaway goal along the right wing 33 seconds after Malkin scored.
After a third period that included a very-near miss for the Capitals that caused the goal light to go off and half of the building to start celebrating, overtime was much more in Washington’s favor. Burakovsky had a pair of quality chances, but the first went over the net and the second found only the glove of Murray.
As the halfway point of overtime loomed, the Capitals gained possession once more in the Pittsburgh zone. Speeding past Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin, Oshie got his fifth shot of the game on net before he was even through the trapezoid behind the net. Trickling just enough beyond the goal line to show the required white space between it and the goal line, the puck barely escaped Murray’s right pad.
“The wait seemed pretty long. I thought I saw it all the way across, I don’t know if I did or not,” Oshie said. “I put my hands up and looked at the ref and he marked it a goal so that kind of reassured me. It was a close one.
“We know [Murray’s] a big goaltender and we know he likes to use his body to stop pucks … thought I could maybe beat him back to the post. He actually did a good job, he actually beat me just by a hair and I think it got a bounce off his blocker maybe and went in.”
“We asked [Oshie], he was pretty confident,” Capitals coach Barry Trotz said. “We did see one view that we were pretty sure, but you don’t know until they make the call on the ice so we hung around like everybody else.
“The puck was following him, and when the puck is following you, usually good things happen. I thought he scored a huge goal for us in the middle frame there when they got the two quick goals. We needed a quick response, and that’s what our team does. There isn’t any panic on our bench, there’s no nervousness or anything like that. We just said, ‘we have to turn this around; let’s go.'”
Questions lingered into the series about the Capitals’ ability to produce in even-strength situations after the glut of power play goals they scored in the first round against Philadelphia. All four Washington goals came during 5-on-5 play, though they were outshot 36-29 in 57 minutes 19 seconds of even-strength play and went 0-4 with six shots in a little over six minutes on the power play.
“I just didn’t like our middle period, we gave up too many transitional-type things, puck management was poor. We didn’t secure the puck in critical areas,” Trotz said.
With 42 saves on 45 shots and the win, Braden Holtby took sole possession of first place in career playoff wins for the franchise with 21.
“Fun game. Fast-paced, exactly what everyone expected. It’s gonna be a fun series. Last series seemed a bit more physical, just the way the styles matched up. Pittsburgh is more of a speed team, and we feel we can play any style,” Holtby said.
DSP three stars
Third star: Nick Bonino (1g, 1a, plus-2)
Second star: Braden Holtby (42/45 saves)
First star: T.J. Oshie (3g, GWG in OT)
- Sidney Crosby was a minus-3 for Pittsburgh.
- It’s the first time a Capitals player has had a hat trick in the playoffs since Nicklas Backstrom on April 17, 2010 against Montreal.
- Although this series has been touted as a matchup of speed vs. speed, Washington outhit the Penguins 43-29. Alex Ovechkin and Kris Letang each had a game-high seven hits.