Tom Wilson goes flying backwards after a hit on Pittsburgh Penguins center Zach Aston-Reese. (by Toni L. Sandys/The Washington Post)
Washington Capitals vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Series: Tied 1-1
7:30 p.m. ET, PPG Paints Arena
• Alex Ovechkin scored with just over a minute remaining to give Washington a 4-3 win in a thrilling Game 3 that earlier included another monstrous hit by Tom Wilson. Wilson’s hit sent Penguin forward Zach Aston-Reese to the locker room leaking blood and earned scrutiny for the Capitals power forward for a third time in the playoffs. (Read more)
• Capitals depth forward Devante Smith-Pelly is showing why he has a reputation for strong playoff performances. (Read more)
• Penguins captain Sidney Crosby is talented, but it’s his practice habits that set him apart. (Read more)
Final: Capitals 4, Penguins 3
The Capitals pulled it out, 4-3 with an Alex Ovechkin goal. With 1:07 remaining, Ovechkin one-timed a pass from Nicklas Backstrom on a two-on-one off the post and then batted the rebound out of the air and past Matt Murray to give the Capitals a 4-3 lead.
The Penguins called a timeout and pulled Matt Murray after Alex Ovechkin’s goal with 1:07 remaining, but the Capitals captain’s tally proved to be the game winner. Washington will take a 2-1 series lead into Thursday’s Game 4 in Pittsburgh.
Next goal wins?: Say, it’s been a while since the Capitals played an overtime playoff game. After four of Washington’s first four games against Columbus in the first round required extra time, the Capitals’ last three games have ended in regulation. It’s been weird. With 8:21 remaining in the third period, the scoreboard still reads 3-3. Shots on goal are 21-18 in favor of the Penguins.
Jakub Vrana gets a promotion: Coach Trotz, perhaps after eyeing the in-game coverage, put Vrana on a line with Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie. During the regular season, this line was outscored 3 to 1 at even strength but held a huge advantage in high-danger scoring chances, 13 to 8, over 71 minutes. This trio also generated five scoring chances in 15 minutes of playing time leading into tonight.
He could be an “X” factor in this series. Or so we’ve heard.
Niskanen ties it as Murray can’t handle slap shot: Former Penguin Matt Niskanen tied the game at 3-3 five minutes into the third period with a slap shot that deflected off Matt Murray’s left pad and into the back of the net. Niskanen’s first goal of the playoffs came minutes after Penguins center Evgeni Malkin ripped a shot off the post.
Wilson hit debated and the consensus is … : Not surprisingly, Tom Wilson’s hit on Zach Aston-Reese was among the topics of discussion during intermission.
“Is it shoulder to shoulder? It looks like it there,” NBC Sports’ Mike Milbury said as a slow-motion replay of the hit played. “This is going to be a really tough call for [Department of Player Safety head] George Parros and the league, because it looks like Wilson comes in, is down, except one foot is lifted off. He lifts up after the hit. Hopefully Aston-Reese is okay, but this is the type of impact player Wilson is.”
Fellow analyst Keith Jones agreed that it’s difficult to tell, from the replays he’s seen, whether Aston-Reese’s head was the main point of contact and whether the hit was avoidable.
“If you’re a Penguins fan, you’re extremely upset,” Jones said. “If you’re a Capitals fan, you’re saying that’s what Tom Wilson is paid to do, get out there and play the game physically.”
Trotz may need to give Vrana more ice time: Alex Ovechkin leads the Capitals with six shot attempts and five scoring chances — two from the high-danger area — with a secondary assist through two periods, but what’s up with Jakub Vrana? The 22-year-old Czech winger has been on the ice for less than five minutes through two periods but he has the second-most scoring chances at even strength (two) after Ovechkin (three). In such a close game, Trotz could use the speed and finesse Vrana brings to the table.
End period 2: Penguins 3, Capitals 2
Well, that escalated quickly. In what was by far the most action-packed period of the series thus far, the Capitals and Penguins combined for five goals, seven penalties and a controversial Tom Wilson hit that will be scrutinized until the next controversial Tom Wilson hit, which, at this rate, will come in the early stages of the third period.
The Penguins continue to hold an advantage in shots (19-12). Just as they did in the second period, the Capitals will start the third on the power play, with nearly a minute remaining on the Penguins’ penalty for too many men on the ice.
Sick move gives Penguins 3-2 lead: With the teams playing 4-on-4 after coincidental minors on Michal Kempny and Tom Kuhnhackl, Sidney Crosby put the Penguins ahead again with his eighth goal of the playoffs. Jake Guentzel and Kris Letang earned the assists, but it was Guentzel who made the play possible with some nifty stickhandling to dance around Dmitry Orlov before finding Crosby for the one-timer. Holtby had no chance.
What a save: Matt Niskanen saved Braden Holtby’s bacon on the Penguins’ best chance on their first power play of the second period, swatting an Evgeni Malkin shot that trickled past Holtby and was rolling toward the goal line out of harm’s way.
It’s on: That tame and scoreless first period sure seems like a distant memory now. Four goals. A controversial hit. Extracurricular activity after the whistle. This period has had it all. With 6:45 remaining in the second, Alex Ovechkin and Jamie Oleksiak were whistled for offsetting cross-checking penalties, but an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Tom Wilson put the Penguins on the power play, which Washington killed off.
Chandler Stephenson ties the game: With the home crowd still buzzing about Tom Wilson’s crushing hit on Zach Aston-Reese, Capitals forward Chandler Stephenson evened the score with his second goal of the playoffs. Stephenson’s tally came with 8:56 remaining in the period off a Jamie Oleksiak penalty in the Penguins’ zone. Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie were credited with the assists.
Big hit from you know who: Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a Tom Wilson hit is under scrutiny. Midway through the second period, Wilson leveled Penguins forward Zach Aston-Reese in front of the Capitals bench. A bloodied Reese headed to the Pittsburgh dressing room and Penguins fans booed upon seeing the replay of the hit after play was stopped. Wilson wasn’t penalized for the hit, and while he avoided any discipline from the Department of Player Safety for his controversial Game 2 hit on Brian Dumoulin, he could be hearing from the league after this one.
Former NHLer Matthew Barnaby weighed in on Twitter:
From bad to worse for Washington as Pittsburgh goes up 2-1: One minute after Pittsburgh tied the game, a hooking penalty by former Penguin Brooks Orpik put the home team back on the power play. As the haunting Holt-by chants continued, the Penguins converted with the man advantage for the first time in the series. Evgeni Malkin received the primary assist after finding Patric Hornqvist in front of the net with 13:11 to play in the period. There was no need to review this goal. The Penguins took a 2-1 lead just 2:16 after their first goal of the game.
Well, that was fast: Washington’s lead was short-lived. Less than four minutes after John Carlson’s missile and two minutes after Conor Sheary rang a shot off the outside of the post, Jake Guentzel deflected a Justin Schultz shot from the point past Braden Holtby. The Holt-by chants from the crowd at PPG Paints Arena soon followed.
Carlson, Caps strike first: The Capitals scored first for the third consecutive game in the series, it just took a little longer this time. With two seconds remaining on Evgeni Malkin’s holdover tripping penalty from the first period, John Carlson ripped a slap shot that deflected off Bryan Rust’s stick and past Matt Murray to start the second period.
The Capitals have breached Murray’s wall.
For once, no offense early: For the first time this series, the game was scoreless after the two-minute mark, and it remained that way through the first period. The Penguins take a 9-7 edge in shots into the intermission, but the Capitals’ offense came alive in the last 10 minutes.
Pittsburgh’s poor discipline contributed to Washington’s resurgence. After being called for only six minor penalties in Games 1 and 2, three Penguins were sent to the box in the first 20 minutes on Tuesday. Twenty seconds after Pittsburgh killed off Washington’s second power play of the game — the Capitals’ first of the full two-minute variety — Evgeni Malkin was sent off for tripping. Washington will begin the second period with 50 seconds remaining on the power play.
Power outage on the power play: Washington has nine scoring chances, one from the slot or crease, with the man advantage. Defensemen Dmitry Orlov and John Carlson share the team lead with two power-play scoring chances each. Alex Ovechkin has one, and not from his office. Pittsburgh has just six chances, three from a high-danger area.
The Penguins had the most efficient power-play during the regular season (26 percent) and the Capitals were seventh (23 percent), with the top-rated power-play unit during the playoffs (32 percent) heading into this game. Eventually, one of these units will break the slump. Right?
End of Period 1: Capitals 0, Penguins 0
Braden Holtby looked behind him after Bryan Rust deflected an Olli Maatta shot on net more than 14 minutes into Game 3, but the puck had settled in his midsection for Holtby’s eighth save of the night. Minutes later, Matt Murray didn’t bother to looking behind him when Lars Eller’s shot from a difficult angle somehow squirted through him. If Murray had, he would’ve seen the puck trickle through the crease and juuuusst wide of the post.
Capitals back to the box, but kill it off: A T.J. Oshie hooking penalty 7:47 into the first period sent Pittsburgh to the power play for the second time. There’s not much action offensively for either team in the early going, but Pittsburgh holds a 4-1 advantage in shots. Washington’s only shot on goal came on their abbreviated 43-second power play. Penguins winger Bryan Rust denied the Capitals’ best chance during the man advantage by blocking an Alex Ovechkin wrist shot before it got to Matt Murray.
Braden Holtby stopped both shots he faced on the Penguins’ second power play, including a dazzling chance for Sidney Crosby in front of the net that represented the best scoring opportunity for either team thus far. With 9:29 remaining in the period, Pittsburgh held a 6-2 advantage in shots.
Caps take the first penalty: A Brett Connolly tripping penalty with 16:04 remaining in the first period produced Game 3’s first power play. The Penguins had the league’s best power play during the regular season, but are 0-for-5 in this series. The Capitals, meanwhile, have killed off 22 consecutive power plays this postseason. Something’s got to give.
…and that something is a penalty on Hornqvist…
Pittsburgh’s power play was cut short when Patric Hornqvist was sent to the box for tripping only 43 seconds into the man advantage.
Line matching begins from first faceoff: With the Penguins now getting last change, Pittsburgh Coach Mike Sullivan is already making a few adjustments, as evidenced by his starting lineup.
The Capitals should expect to see the Penguins at their very best, according to NBC Sports analyst Mike Milbury.
“I think this is going to be the best game of the series,” Milbury said during the pregame show. “I think it’s going to be emotional. I think the [Tom] Wilson factor is in there, I think the return of [Evgeni] Malkin and [Brian] Dumoulin, assuming that’s going to happen, is really going to be fun to watch. I think that’s going to jack the Penguins. I think they’re going to play their best game.”
Malkin’s line partners aren’t so strange: Evgeni Malkin skating with Dominik Simon and Bryan Rust is new, but not completely unfamiliar. The results, however, are mixed.
Malkin and Rust shared 248 minutes of even-strength ice time during the regular season, outscoring (12 to 10) and outshooting (154 to 127) opponents. They were also on the ice for an even strength goal against the Philadelphia Flyers. Malkin and Simon shared 13 minutes together during the regular season; they were ou-tchanced 2 to 11 and outscored 1 to 2 in that span.
Malkin, Dumoulin dress for Penguins: The Washington Capitals were welcomed to a spatter of boos at PPG Paints Arena shortly after taking the ice prior to Game 3 Tuesday, and it only subsided after the home crowd noticed that Evgeni Malkin and Brian Dumoulin had taken the ice for their Penguins.
Malkin has missed the past three games with an undisclosed lower body injury, while Dumoulin was knocked out of Game 2 on a controversial hit by Washington’s Tom Wilson. It appears both Malkin and Dumoulin will play. Carl Hagelin, who along with Malkin and Dumoulin was considered a game-time decision Tuesday, was not on the ice for warmups and is still nursing an upper body injury.
Bryce Harper has big Cup dreams: Just a few hours before the Capitals took the ice for Game 3 and with the Vegas Golden Knights leading their series two games to one, Las Vegas Native and Washington Nationals slugger Bryce Harper had this to say on Twitter:
And if you’re wondering if he has a preference over which of those two teams should make the Stanley Cup finals, you should probably read this.
Penguins need more from non-Crosby lines: Secondary scoring was a luxury the Penguins had while winning the Stanley Cup in each of the past two years. However, that well appears to have run dry against the Capitals.
Pittsburgh has scored four even-strength goals against Washington and no Penguins’ skater has more than one goal this series. Sidney Crosby’s line, which includes Jake Guentzel and Patric Hornqvist, has three of those goals and defenseman Kris Letang has the other, leaving the rest of Pittsburgh’s lineup starving for production.
Give some credit to Washington’s defense. Holtby stopped all 15 of the high-danger shots — those in the slot or crease — he faced at even strength in Game 2 and the blue-line tandem of John Carlson and Michal Kempny allowed Phil Kessel’s line to generate just one high-danger chance all night. Brooks Orpik also held Derick Brassard and his linemates to one high-danger chance against.
Players to watch
Devante Smith-Pelly: The Capitals signed Smith-Pelly to a league minimum deal in free agency after his contract was bought out by the New Jersey Devils. He was a bargain addition who’s paid dividends, especially in the postseason, where he already has scored two goals. Forward Brett Connolly described him as looking like a “new player” right now. Smith-Pelly has a history of performing in the playoffs. Four years ago, he scored five goals in 12 games with Anaheim. He scored seven goals and nine assists in 75 games with the Capitals this season, and Washington is pleased with the physicality he’s brought to the third line in the postseason.
“We’ve had a number of discussions about being consistent, being present every game, having impact, how you have impact, what’s your skill set,” Trotz said. “Come playoff time, I think what you see is you see the skill set come out, but you also see the ability to get to those hard areas on a consistent basis. He’s got a really good hockey IQ. He’s got a high commitment level when it comes to defending and battling and working for space. I think in the playoffs, all those factors are magnified, so his game when it’s ramped up and magnified, it sort of tends to fit into a playoff type of structure and the atmosphere.”
Kris Letang: A year ago, Letang watched Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup run from afar, out for the entire postseason because he needed surgery for a herniated disk in his neck. Though this wasn’t his best season — he had nine goals and 42 assists in 79 games — he’s a key cog to a defense that’s experienced turnover with Ian Cole, Trevor Daley and Ron Hainsey gone from the championship-winning blueline. Letang scored his second goal of the playoffs in Game 2 against Washington, and with eight points in eight playoff games, he’s still a considerable threat.
Immerse yourself in the Capitals’ postseason with The Post’s coverage of the Stanley Cup playoffs:
No suspension for Capitals’ Tom Wilson after hit on Penguins’ Brian Dumoulin
Speedy Jakub Vrana could be the Capitals’ X-factor — if he gets on the ice
With a bit of luck — and a lot of Braden Holtby — the Capitals tie up the series
Penguins leave town fuming after Game 2 loss to the Capitals
How the Capitals improved their defensive play in time for the postseason
‘When the pressure is on,’ so is Penguins goalie Matt Murray
A two-goal lead is hockey’s most dangerous. For the Capitals, it’s a grenade.
Capitals and Penguins: A landscape of pain and agony
‘We’re actually quite excited about it’: Caps want their Cup quest to go through Pens
For the Capitals to make a leap, Braden Holtby must provide safety in net
So they meet again: Five top moments in the Alex Ovechkin-Sidney Crosby rivalry
No doubt: Capitals’ Braden Holtby kept his confidence amid a season of struggles
These Penguins fans have more sympathy than hatred for the Capitals
Fancy Stats: Three reasons this Capitals-Penguins series will be different
Alex Ovechkin-Evgeny Kuznetsov-Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson-Nicklas Backstrom-T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly-Lars Eller-Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana-Jay Beagle-Alex Chiasson
Scratches: Andre Burakovsky (upper body), Shane Gersich, Travis Boyd, Brian Pinho, Nathan Walker
Dmitry Orlov-Matt Niskanen
Michal Kempny-John Carlson
Brooks Orpik-Christian Djoos
Scratches: Jakub Jerabek, Madison Bowey
Braden Holtby (starter)
Scratch: Pheonix Copley
Jake Guentzel-Sidney Crosby-Patric Hornqvist
Dominik Simon-Evgeni Malkin-Bryan Rust
Zach Aston-Reese-Riley Sheahan-Phil Kessel
Conor Sheary-Derick Brassard-Tom Kuhnhackl
Scratches: Carter Rowney, Carl Hagelin (upper-body injury)
Brian Dumoulin-Kris Letang
Olli Maatta-Justin Schultz
Jamie Oleksiak-Chad Ruhwedel
Scratch: Matt Hunwick
Matt Murray (starter)