Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good. In the NHL playoffs, sometimes it’s better to have the best player in the game on your team. The Pens needed a little of the former and all of the latter to escape Washington with a 3-2 victory in Game 1.
Take away the first minute and four seconds of the second period, when Sidney Crosby used his power-up to score twice, and the Penguins would have been left with a rather awful opening to Round 2. If you thought the Caps outshooting the Pens 35-21 was bad, consider the Caps had a total of 72 even-strength shot attempts, while the Pens finished with only 32. The Caps dominated the majority of the game, and the Pens still snuck out with the W.
Does it feel like we’ve seen this fish before?
We know the Pens have owned the Capitals in the playoffs, eliminating them eight times in the nine postseason meetings between the two teams. Even with the Caps having the league’s best record, the Pens were always going to be their hurdle. The pressure was on them before this series even started — being down 1-0 is just going to intensify that. And we all know how the Caps handle pressure.
But we also know the Pens aren’t going to get away with playing that poorly again. Washington had more than enough opportunities, and if the Pens only possess the puck for 30 percent of Game 2, the series is coming back to Pittsburgh tied at one.
We know, even with a victory, the Pens have a lot to tighten up for Game 2. But there was also some good to come from Game 1. That much we know.
1. The Sid vs. Ovi rivalry is alive and well.
Last we saw these two together, they were chumming it up at the NHL All-Star game, but we should have known whatever weird friendship was formed that weekend wouldn’t last long. These two teams rely on their captains, and their captains rarely disappoint.
Crosby scored his first 12 seconds into the second period:
And was shot out of a rocket for his second 52 seconds later:
After a smattering of boos for the first goal, Verizon Center fell silent. Stephen King couldn’t have scripted a worse start to the second period for the Capitals.
But not to be outdone, Ovechkin provided a response when he scored late in the second period to help the Capitals climb back in the game:
It’s impossible to believe that after so many battles that these two can continue to live up to the hype, but they do. Crosby and Ovechkin have played 55 games against each other in the regular season and playoffs. In those games, Ovechkin has 36 goals and 29 assists for 65 points and Crosby has 30 goals and 47 assists for 77 points.
Crosby’s career playoff stats in 14 games vs. Washington? 10G-7A. His two goals helped get Pittsburgh a victory and won the battle between the two superstars in Game 1. Their story, to be continued…
2. There is no love lost between these two teams.
Last year, the Caps season ended in Pittsburgh after losing Game 6 of the second round. This year, their season opened in Pittsburgh, and they were forced to watch the Penguins raise their Stanley Cup banner. For a team that really loves banners, this had to be traumatizing for the Capitals.
It showed, as the Caps were throwing their weight around for most of the night Thursday. To their credit, the Pens were able to push back without getting themselves in the penalty box.
Six minutes into the third period, Washington had a 32-13 advantage in hits. But as we know: Goals are always better than hits, and the Pens won where it counts.
As the final horn sounded, these two teams weren’t done with one another, and it ended with a fan hurling a beer at Crosby.
Good arm, foot.
We know the Pens are going to need to walk the line with the officials because the Caps power play is lethal. They were able to keep the Caps off the man advantage in Game 1 — the fewer opportunities they have the rest of the series, the better the Pens chances of winning will be.
3. Fleury keeps getting better.
Marc-Andre Fleury was solid in Round 1. One game into Round 2, and he’s been nothing short of spectacular.
His biggest moment came late in the third with the Caps pushing hard to tie the game:
It’s impossible to show enough praise for the job Fleury has done this postseason. He wasn’t even supposed to be in this position a month ago and is now stealing playoff games. Imagine going back in time to two years ago and telling someone Fleury would be the Penguins best player in this postseason — as the backup.
We know Fleury is on fire, but how long will he be able to bail out the Pens? Time will tell. So far, so good.
4. Bonino, Bonino, Bonino!
Nick Bonino is a Capitals killer. His goal in Game 6 last season sent the Caps to the offseason early, and on Thursday night, there was Bonino again in front of the net, again celebrating as his third-period goal pushed the Penguins past Washington in a playoff game.
Bonino had two goals and three assists in the series against Washington last season and picked up right where he left off in Game 1. He always finds a way to turn it on down the stretch, and this season has been no different. He had five points in the last four games of the regular season, and despite only registering one goal against Columbus, he is right back to his old ways of scoring clutch playoff goals.
We know the Pens and Caps top-two lines are so strong, they virtually cancel each other out. If Bonino can continue to play out of his head, it gives the Pens a big advantage further down the lineup. Bonino was key during the Cup run last season, and that should be true again this season — especially if they are able to get past the Caps.
5. Seeing Pens fans party on the steps never gets old.
It’s a tradition like no other. Pens win in Washington; Pens fans meet at the steps of the National Gallery.
I mean, without tradition our lives would be as shaky as the fiddler on the roof.
These two teams are so evenly matched, getting out of Washington with at least one win is huge for the Pens. Getting two before heading back to Pittsburgh — where the Pens have played much better throughout the season — would be an incredible bonus.
If we know anything at all here, it’s that we’d love to see another party on the steps after Game 2 on Saturday night.