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Matt Murray shuts the door on Washington as Penguins claim the first matchup over Caps

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Matt Murray shuts the door on Washington as Penguins claim the first matchup over Caps

WASHINGTON -- Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Matt Murray came up huge to preserve the third-period lead for Pittsburgh as the Capitals dropped Round 1 against their rival 4-3 on Sunday. Alex Ovechkin's five-game goal streak was snapped as Washington dropped its second consecutive home game in regulation for the first time this season.

Here is how the Caps lost.

A quick response

Washington was the better team for the first 10 minutes of the game and Lars Eller cashed in to make it 1-0. The Caps could not build on that lead or the momentum as Sam Lafferty scored just 68 seconds later.

Nicklas Backstrom had the puck pocked away in the neutral zone creating a counter-attack for the Penguins. Lafferty pounced on the loose puck and fired a shot from the top of the circle. Samsonov went to the butterfly, but Lafferty shot high, beating him over the blocker-side.

Samsonov plays fairly low, but perhaps he did not have much of a scouting report on Lafferty after he was just recalled. Either way, the shot beat Samsonov and completely shifted the momentum in Pittsburgh's favor after a strong start for Washington.

A tough first period for Samsonov

After getting beat by Lafferty, Samsonov was beaten again less than a minute later off an unfortunate play. John Marino passed the puck to Patrick Hornqvist right outside the crease. He redirected it to the front of the net and Samsonov got his stick to it, but tapped it back into his own net.

Samsonov rebounded well after the first period, as he typically does, and had a good game overall. That first period, however, was a tough one.

Net-front presence

The Penguins were able to plant themselves in front of Samsonov and dominated the net-front presence in the Caps' defensive zone. Samsonov was called upon to make a number of big saves deep in his crease along the goal line, but it cost Washington twice.

Hornqvist was all alone in front of the net on his redirect goal and Dominik Simon took advantage in the second period as well.

Simon passed the puck from behind the net to Sidney Crosby for a sharp-angle shot, which Samsonov saved. Backstrom came to challenge Crosby, but there was no one else there to protect the front of the net with Michal Kempny on the back door. Simon picked up what was essentially an uncontested rebound, then backhanded a shot through the challenge of Kempny and through the five-hole of Samsonov.

Matt Murray

Like Washington, Pittsburgh has an incumbent starter being outplayed by the backup. Tristan Jarry has been better than Murray this season, but Murray drew the start and turned in a terrific performance, turning aside 29 shots including 11 in the third period to maintain Pittsburgh's lead. He did give up two third-period goals, one to Kuznetsov and one to Eller, but he came up huge time and again in the final frame to preserve the win.

Murray also denied a breakaway opportunity for Jakub Vrana in the second period that would have tied the game at 2-2.

Too many penalties

Washington gave Pittsburgh six power-play opportunities for the game. While the penalty kill did well to kill off all six, that's still too many. That's 12 minutes in which the Caps' top offensive players were on the bench.

The most damaging penalty came midway through the third period. Washington was once again dominating, was outshooting Pittsburgh 8-2 and Evgeny Kuznetsov's goal pulled the Caps to within 3-2. Carl Hagelin tried to chip the puck off the wall around Chad Ruhwedel and gave him a shove for good measure, but his stick came up and hit Ruhwedel in the face giving Hagelin a minor penalty.

Once again, the Penguins were unable to score, but that was two fewer minutes for the Caps to continue pouring on the offense.

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How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

How to watch classic Capitals games this week on NBC Sports Washington

If you just can't get enough iconic Caps games during quarantine, then NBC Sports Washington is the place for you.

All week long beginning Monday, April 6, NBC Sports Washington will be airing classic Capitals games, including multiple comebacks and culminating with the five games against Vegas in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

The games leading into the postseason re-air will include multiple memorable finishes from the 2019-20 season.

Of course, if you make it that far, you certainly won't want to miss the re-airing of the Capitals championship parade that follows.

Here's a rundown of all the games airing this week on NBC Sports Washington:

Washington Capitals at Vancouver Canucks

Date: Monday, April 6
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: October 25, 2019

Backup goaltender Ilya Samsonov had a rough day in net, allowing five unanswered goals in quick succession from the end of the first period into the second. But Evgeny Kuznetsov broke the Caps' drought in the final second of the second period, sparking the team to a remarkable four-goal comeback.

The Caps would eventually win in a shootout, kicking off a six-game winning streak.

Vegas Golden Knights at Washington Capitals

Date: Wednesday, April 8
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: November 9, 2019

The game that capped off the Caps' aforementioned six-game winning streak - and extended their point streak to 11 - was an easier win. The Caps pulled ahead early and never looked back, keyed by Backstrom's two-goal day.

Of course, games against the Golden Knights will always have a special place in fans' hearts after the summer of 2018.

San Jose Sharks at Washington Capitals

Date: Thursday, April 9
Time: 8 p.m.
Original Game: January 5, 2020

This was as wild a finish as the Caps have had in a long time. Down 3-2, they pulled Braden Holtby late in the third period, and the Sharks took advantage with an empty-netter. Then, miraculously, the Capitals scored twice in the final 47 seconds of the game to force overtime, where they won the game.

The Caps would have considered themselves lucky just to come away with a point here, and instead, they got two in one of the most memorable finishes in franchise history.

How to watch the 2018 Stanley Cup Final, Washington Capitals vs. Las Vegas Golden Knights

All-day Sunday, April 12

Game 1
Time:
9 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 28, 2018

The first team in the nation's capital to make even a semifinal run in 20 years, the hype surrounding the Capitals in the Stanley Cup Final was immeasurable. The Golden Knights hosted Game 1 with a breathtaking opening ceremony, and the two teams jumped on each other early with a 2-2 first period. 

Washington took the lead 4-3 early in the third period, but Braden Holtby struggled during the frame and the Caps fell 6-4 to fall behind in the series, as they had throughout the postseason run.

Game 2
Time:
11:30 a.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: May 30, 2018

The Caps fell behind early in the game, but bounced back to steal a close Game 2. Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the series, Braden Holtby was superb - including an all-time legendary save - and the Capitals headed home tied 1-1 in the series.

Game 3
Time:
2 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 2, 2018

The first home championship game Washington hosted in years, Game 3 was as hot a ticket as you'll ever find.

Holtby was terrific once again, allowing his only goal in the third period. Evgeny Kuznetsov recorded a goal and an assist, and to nobody's surprise, it was Ovechkin who scored the Caps' first home goal of the series.

Game 4
Time:
4:30 p.m.
Location: Washington
Original Game: June 4, 2018

Game 4 was the Caps' biggest explosion. They scored six goals in the game, including three on the power play. Six different players netted goals for the Capitals in a well-rounded effort, boosted by Backstrom's three assists.

After their easiest win of the series, the Caps were riding high up 3-1 heading back to Las Vegas.

Game 5
Time:
7 p.m.
Location: Las Vegas
Original Game: June 7, 2018

The one that needs no introduction, right? After a scoreless first period, the teams exploded for five combined goals in the second period, including a power play goal from Ovi.

Trailing 3-2 entering the third period, the Caps needed someone else to step up, and they got it. Devante Smith-Pelly tied the game midway through the frame, and Lars Eller gave them the Cup-clinching goal a few minutes later.

Holtby held on the rest of the way, and the Capitals became your 2018 Stanley Cup Champions.

Championship Parade

Time: 9:30 p.m.
Original Date: June 12, 2018

What more needs to be said? The Capitals kicked off the great summer of celebration in style, parading through Washington, D.C. and sharing the glory of their title runs during an unforgettable afternoon with thousands of fans.

If you somehow missed this live, you don't want to miss re-living it now.

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Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Lars Eller may be the Tiger, but Caps coach Todd Reirden is not about to lump him in with the people from 'Tiger King'

Like everyone during this time of social distancing because of the coronavirus, Todd Reirden is getting some extra time to catch up on some TV. Also like everyone, one of the shows he has watched during the NHL's pause in the season is the Netflix docuseries "Tiger King."

"I did take myself through the 'Tiger King,'" Reirden said on a conference call Monday. "That I did watch. I watched that one on my own. I did not have my wife and son in on that one. I wanted to be prepared for discussion points with the players if they had seen it. So I did watch that. I'll just leave it at that, but I did watch it."

So Reirden has watched it, but just for reference. Right.

"It's just one of those things that you want to be prepared for as a coach because you know they all have watched it and I saw the amount of people that have watched it," Reirden said. "I have not gotten into in-depth discussions but when I do get together with the players one day when things become normal again for us."

While Reirden was diplomatic about what he thought about the people featured in the series, he also made it clear he was not about to compare any of the Capitals players to Joe Exotic or any of the other...colorful characters. That includes Lars Eller.

Eller's nickname, of course, is 'Tiger' after he chose the tiger for his spirit animal in a talk with Tony Robbins. When Reirden was asked Monday if Eller was the team's "Tiger King," Reirden was pretty quick to shut that down.

"Lars Eller, I mean he is our Tiger for sure on our team," Reirden said. "I hate to couple him into the same kind of personality that's going on with the 'Tiger King, 'but certainly he has the name for it. So that's an interesting thought that I need to spend some more time on before I commit to it."

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