March 4, 2021

Washington Capitals Game 80 Recap: Comeback falls short in overtime loss to Pens


(Photo by Greg Fiume/NHLI via Getty Images)

(Photo by Greg Fiume/NHLI via Getty Images)

Marcus Johansson — yes, Marcus Johansson — led a three-goal comeback for the Washington Capitals, only to see Sidney Crosby take a long head-man pass in overtime to beat Braden Holtby and lift the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Caps 4-3 on Thursday at a noticeably divided Verizon Center.

Pittsburgh won its eighth in a row and locked up second place in the division win the win.

The Caps (55-17-8) needed the late comeback because once again they came out complacent, suffered defensive breakdowns and received sometimes nonchalant goaltending.

A mere 44 seconds into the game, on a three-on-two rush, Tom Kuhnackl turned Nate Schmidt inside-out and passed to wide open Matt Cullen, who cleanly beat Holtby for a 1-0 lead.It was clear from the get-go the Penguins were more interested in this one.

Then 28 seconds into the second period, it happened again, this time shorthanded.

Cullen got the puck at the Caps left point and came up ice with old friend Eric Fehr two-on-one. Cullen tried to give Fehr a crossing pass, but the puck deflected off Matt Niskanen’s skate and between Holtby’s legs for a 2-0 lead.

The Pens made it 3-0 nine minutes later. Tom Sestito wrestled a puck free in neutral ice, and gave it to Oskar Sundqvist on a three-on-two rush. When Evgeny Kuznetsov tried a reach check on Sundqvist, he sent the puck to a wide-open Conor Sheary (who now?), and Sheary slipped it past a stunned Holtby.

But time and again, the Caps have proven that you can never count them out.

With 2:41 left in the second, Johansson got position at the top of the crease and redirected John Carlson’s slap pass for the first goal of the night from the skaters wearing red.

The Caps came out with more intensity and urgency in the third, as has become something of a custom. Midway through the frame, a good spate of puck possession by Kuznetsov ended with the puck out at the point with Niskanen. The defenseman handed off to Johansson, who had just come onto the ice and Johansson was able to get his shot off and under the right arm of goalie Matthew Murray for his 17th goal of the season.

The Caps tied it three minutes later. Kuzntesov held a puck in at the line and gave to Justin Williams, who tapped to John Carlson, who found Andre Burakovsky alone at the far post. Burakovsky’s tip-in, his 17th goal of the year, tied it at three.

It stayed that way until one minute left in overtime, when Kris Letang sent Crosby in alone with a long lead pass playing three-on-three. Crosby made a quick deke, got Holtby off-balance, and slipped a backhand in to give the Penguins what they thought they’d earned through the first 35 minutes of the game.

Holtby is still one game short of tying Martin Brodeur’s all-time record for wins by a goaltender at 48. The Caps play Saturday night on the road against the St. Louis Blues and Sunday at home against Anaheim, and Holtby is expected to play one of the two games.

“We clinched the playoff spot early,” Holtby told the media. “It might be that some guys are real excited to play the playoffs and forget about playing the last games here. I think that’s something we have to get rid of and start really playing well in the next two here so we can be ready for what’s coming up.”


About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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