While the Washington Capitals matched the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first 26 minutes of their Super Bowl Sunday clash, the Caps’ effort came unglued in a 37-second span in the second period and ended up losing 6-3 in their only meeting of the regular season at Verizon Center.
Chris Kunitz ended up with a hat trick for the visiting Penguins in the game’s final seconds, but the game was lost well before the final horn.
A fluke goal by John Carlson lifted the Capitals into a 2-2 tie 4:03 into the second period, and Washington was given a power-play just 12 seconds after the strange tally to try and get their first lead of the afternoon.
Despite controlling the zone time with a decent power-play effort, Washington failed to score. Pittsburgh countered soon after the penalty kill, and Kris Letang fired a wrist shot that Capitals starter Braden Holtby couldn’t get all of, giving the Pens a 3-2 lead as the puck rolled in the cage.
It was a shot that Holtby knew he should have had, and left him looking at the arena rafters as a result. It also proved to be a big turning point.
“It would have been big to score a goal on the PP, and get us a lead there,” Backstrom said. “It would have been a different situation.”
Less than a minute after the Letang goal, Kunitz snapped a shot over Holtby’s shoulder, giving Pittsburgh a 4-2 lead in the game and sagging the Capitals’ hopes.
“We had a good power play, I thought we were moving it around well, afterwards, they picked it up a little bit, got two quick goals and it kind of deflated us and we weren’t able to recover,” Troy Brouwer said afterwards.
Pittsburgh took full command of the game later in the frame, taking a 5-2 lead with 6:01 left in the second while Wojtek Wolski was serving a tripping minor, giving the Penguins 3 goals on just 5 shots on Holtby in the first 13:59 of the second.
“It’s a tough break,” Wolski said. “I would have liked to stayed out of the box, obviously didn’t try to trip him, but they score and they’re up by two. It puts us behind and we’ve got to work extra hard. I think overall we did put in the effort and got a bunch of goals on the power play and it wasn’t a bad game for us, but a disappointing loss.”
For a Washington team looking to build some momentum in a short season, it was a difficult middle period for Holtby, who has been inconsistent so far in four appearances this season.
Oates said afterwards he thought about making a goaltending change, but felt Holtby deserved a chance to right the ship.
“There was a time I thought about pulling him,” Oates said. “But you know what, the guy’s been very good for this franchise the last year and I thought he earned the right to stay in there and fight through it.”
The two teams had an exciting start to the game, with the two teams trading chances.
Paul Martin got the Penguins on the board first, blasting a shot past Holtby, with the puck deflecting off Carlson’s shin pad into the cage.
Mike Green answered just 1:28 later, taking a big hit behind the net, but wobbled to the slot and blasted a Wolski centering feed past former Capitals netminder Tomas Vokoun to square the game.
But Pittsburgh got the lead back 3:15 later, as Matt Cooke tipped a Deryk Engelland drive past Holtby, and the Penguins had a 2-1 lead they would hold into the break.
Washington tied up the game on a very fluky tally, as Carlson was attempting to dump into the Penguins zone for a line change, but the puck hit a stantion near the faceoff circle and Vokoun, who went to play the puck behind the cage, was left in no-mans land as the puck rolled into the yawning net.
But Washington failed to build on the momentum of the tally and the ensuing power-play, and saw their chances for two points evaporate in short order thanks to a pair of goals Holtby would like to have back.
“We were playing good, answered back in the first right away, felt good about our game heading into the first intermission, we were are able to tie it up, a little bit of a lucky bounce – they happen,” Brouwer said. “We had a lot of good momentum, and is the case this season, we got scored on in bunches and can’t recover.”
Mike Riberio made the score 5-3 early in the third, as after a nice play by Alex Ovechkin to keep the puck in the zone during a power play, Riberio took a deflected Brouwer pass in front and beating Vokoun with the man-advantage.
Washington fell to 2-6-1 on the year – ironically, the same mark they held in the last 48-game schedule in 1994-95, although that team did eventually qualify for the playoffs. But the Caps will have to look to try and wrap up the three-game homestand with a win Tuesday against Toronto before a rematch with Pittsburgh looms Thursday.
Despite the rivalry, Backstrom said he was disappointed the Capitals lost the game.
“Right now, we don’t care who we play because we need points,” Backstrom said. “If you don’t get the points, doesn’t matter who we play.”
For now, the Capitals have to deal with how Sunday’s game came unraveled in just 37 seconds.
“We had all the momentum, the crowd was into it, the guys were into it, we felt good, and we got scored on,” Brouwer said. “Two quick goals and they scored a power-play goal after.”
“We let up a couple of easy goals, I think,” Backstrom said. “A couple of mistakes on our side.”