PITTSBURGH – For the third consecutive game, the Washington Capitals conceded the first goal of the game and let a third period lead slip away. But for the third consecutive game, the Caps came out with an overtime win, this time against the hated Penguins inside a raucous CONSOL Energy Center. Dennis Wideman played the hero, scoring the game-winning goal on a power play in the extra session, while Alex Ovechkin and Mike Knuble also scored for Washington. Tomas Vokoun bounced back from a relatively poor first outing to post 39 saves, several of them spectacular, to help bring home a huge victory. With their win, the Caps are now 3-0.
For the third consecutive game, Washington came out very poorly to open the contest. The visitors yielded the opening goal a little over two minutes into the game when James Neal was left wide open on the half wall and ripped a one-timer past Tomas Vokoun, who was late getting across. Despite the fact that the Caps were down early, however, their lethargic play continued as the opening frame wore on; they were simply unable to get the puck out of their own zone and just let the Penguins come at them in waves.
Pittsburgh earned a pair of man advantages in close succession near the middle of the period, and Washington was very lucky to not fall behind by more than one goal while down a man. Even after the power plays were over, the Penguins continued to just dominate the Caps, pinning them in their zone for long streches and getting open look after open look in the slot. Thankfully, the hosts were unable to convert a second goal as the period wound down, and the game entered the first intermission with Pittsburgh outshooting DC 12-3.
As poor as their opening to the first period was, the start of DC’s middle frame was the exact opposite. No doubt energized by a lengthly Bruce Boudreau intermission tirade, the visitors came out with energy and speed, forechecking the Penguins well early and generating chances of their own. Washington was able to find their equalizer a short time later when Mike Knuble bulldozed his way in front after collecting the puck in the corner and buried it under Brent Johnson from a tough angle.
The game really opened up towards the middle stages of the second frame, with both teams generating good offense off of forechecking and forcing turnovers. The goaltenders, however, upped their game and made several excellent saves to keep the game deadlocked. Pittsburgh was awarded another power play near the end of the frame, and used it to pick up more offensive momentum to put Washington on their heels once more. A hectic finish saw the Penguins continue their pressure despite not scoring on their man advantage, and again, DC was lucky to enter the intermission not down a goal, despite their overall improvement.
Washington got off to a great start in the final period, scoring less than a minute in when a great forecheck by the top line gave Mike Green an open point shot. DC’s star defenseman ripped the puck towards the goal, where Alex Ovechkin tipped it just below the circles to send it off the back crossbar and give the visitors the lead. The Caps did not let up their pressure despite their lead, but could not find another goal to extend their lead with about 14 minutes remaining in regulation.
With 13 minutes left in the game, Jay Beagle bravely challenged Arron Asham to a fight at center ice; Washington’s 4th line grinder was absolutely punished by Pittsbugh’s heavyweight and was left with a broken and bloody nose. Beagle was saddled with an instigator penalty for his actions leading up to the fight, but again, the Washington penalty killers stood firm to keep the Penguins from equalizing. But the hosts kept coming in waves at the Caps’ defense, pouring shots on and coming very close several times.
Pittsburgh was awarded a late power play, their fifth of the game, with a little less than five minutes left in the period as a golden opportinity to draw even with their heated rivals. Despite doing well on the kill early, Washington’s shorthanded unit could not hold off the Penguins for a fifth time, and James Neal drew the hosts even with a shot through Vokoun’s five hole with a little more than three and a half minutes remaining. The late Pittsburgh goal sent the Consol Energy Center into a frenzy, and the home side used that energy to put DC on their heels for the final three minutes. Fortunately, Washington was able to hang on and salvage a point to head the game to overtime.
The Penguins continued their theme of dominating DC early in the overtime period, but Jordan Staal made a critical error, taking a penalty a minute into the extra session to give DC their first power play of the game. The visitors made use of their man advantage quickly, as Dennis Wideman connected off a nice cross-ice pass from Nicklas Backstrom to send DC home 3-2 winners.
Another sloppy game, but I’ll take it. The Caps did not look good for long stretches tonight, getting absolutely dominated and outshot by a hungry and very good Penguins team. But they still found a way to win, which is the hallmark of great teams. It’s certainly understandable that DC is not in high gear right now, and considering that this is the case and the team is 3-0? It certainly bodes well for the future.
Tomas Vokoun: as advertised. He let in two goals, stopped 39, and was the reason DC able to hold on in the third period, when the Penguins bumrushed their visitors. Yes, he was bad for the first 57 minutes of his Caps career. For the last 70, he’s been an absolute beast and exactly the elite goaltender that we all expect from him. “Start Braden Holtby over him.” Yeah, right.
Dennis Wideman is showing why George McPhee was so happy after last year’s trading deadline. The soon to be unrestricted free agent is smart with the puck, makes good decisions, and can really shoot on the power play and even strength alike. Oh, and he’s on our third defensive pairing and second power play unit. Goody.
The Capitals will practice tomorrow before welcoming the Ottawa Senators to Verizon Center on Saturday night. That game is scheduled for 7 PM.