PITTSBURGH – The Capitals’ quest for their first trip to the Eastern Conference Finals in the Alex Ovechkin era took a step backwards Monday night with a 3-2 loss to the Penguins in Game 3 of their second-round playoff series.
The Capitals outshot the Penguins 49-23 overall and 21-9 in the final period, but could not completely solve 21-year-old rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who made 47 saves.
The Caps’ offense came late, with goals from Alex Ovechkin with just under 12 minutes left in the final period and another from Justin Williams, his first of the playoffs, with 54 seconds remaining.
How it happened: The Capitals outshot the Penguins 28-14 in the opening two periods but managed to get little traffic in front of Penguins goalie Matt Murray and fell behind 3-0 on first-period goals by patric Hornqvist and Tom Kuhnhackl and a third-period goal by Carl Hagelin. In fact, the Penguins put two goals past Braden Holtby on their first four shots. Hornqvist got things started just 6:37 into the game when he redirected a point shot by defenseman Trevor Daley past Holtby for his first goal of the series and fourth of the playoffs. Kuhnhackl made it 2-0 exactly 1 minute later with his first goal of the series and second of the playoffs when Matt Cullen’s centering pass went off the back of his jersey and behind Holtby. Murray made glove saves on T.J. Oshie and Marcus Johansson and kicked out a point shot through traffic from John Carlson, allowing the Penguins to build their lead. The Caps threw the hammer down in the third period with 20 shots and finally broke through when Alex Ovechkin netted his first goal of the series, using defenseman Kris Letang as a screen and rifling a rising wrist shot over the catching glove of Murray with 11:58 remaining in regulation. Justin Williams made it 3-2 with Holtby pulled for an extra attacker, jamming home an Ovechkin rebound for his first of the post-season. The Caps hounded the Pens in the final 50 seconds but could not get a shot on net.
What it means: In Stanley Cup playoff history, the team that has won Game 3 in a series tied 1-1 has gone on to win the series 67 percent of the time.
Special teams: The Penguins also did a masterful job on the Capitals’ power play, holding it scoreless on five attempts. The Caps have just one power-play goal on 10 advantages in the series. The Caps remained perfect on the penalty kill in the series, holding the Pens off the board on three man-advantages to improve to 10-for-10. Taylor Chorney filled in for Brooks Orpik on the man-advantage, playing alongside John Carlson.
Free Willy: Justin Williams took two more minor penalties that resulted in Pittsburgh power plays. He’s now taken 12 minutes in penalties that have left the Caps shorthanded six times.
Suspension for Letang?: Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan spoke with a league supervisor during the first intermission after seeing forward Marcus Johansson leave the game with 4:19 remaining in the opening period after taking a hit to the head from Penguins defenseman Kris Letang.
Letang was given a minor penalty for interference but the fact his hit came after Johansson had released a pass and his head was the primary point of contact could result in supplementary discipline. Unlike Game 2, when Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta did not return from an upper body injury after a late hit from Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik, Johansson returned for the second period and showed no ill effects from the hit. Orpik received a three-game suspension for his late hit on Maatta, so it will be interesting to see if Letang is suspended for his hit, which did not result in an injury.
What’s next: The Capitals are scheduled to practice at Consol Energy Center on Tuesday, with Game 4 slated for Wednesday night at 8.