After losing what Coach Adam Oates called “a clearly winnable game” the night before, the Washington Capitals traveled north to Pittsburgh to finish what was started. Unfortunately, they did not pick up where they left off in Washington, losing the fourth and final game against the Penguins this season to a score of 2-0.
With this win, Pittsburgh has won the last eight straight over the struggling Caps, who sit outside of the playoffs with a difficult 15 games left in their schedule. Washington has now lost five of their last six and has been shut out in two of their last four.
“We know the situation,” said Alex Ovechkin of their desperate playoff push. “We know we can’t lose a game, we can’t give up the points…we just have to relax, don’t look at the standings. When you have that kind of situation you always think, one mistake, here we go again. We play not our game and it costs us the game.”
The first period was a quick one, yielding only two whistles over a 13-minute span that saw no clearly established zonetime for either team. The home team would break through first.
Jussi Jokinen got his 17th of the season when Dmitry Orlov gave the puck away to Evgeni Malkin. Malkin sent the puck to Matt Niskanen at the point, whose shot was deflected five-hole by Jokinen to put his team up 1-0 late in the first.
The Caps failed to establish any quality zonetime in the second period, losing battles to the Pens and giving up too many turnovers.
Washington started to show signs of life midway through the second and finally got some offensive opportunities going. New addition Evgeny Kuznetsov narrowly missed scoring the first NHL goal of his career when Fleury robbed Kuznetsov from his stomach, raising the right pad to preserve the Pens lead.
The Caps played well in the third and a power play on a Niskanen high sticking call seemed promising until Nicklas Backstrom was whistled for his own high sticking call to negate the power play just a minute in.
Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby put the cherry on top of the Pens’ sweep with his 31st goal of the season with less than six minutes left in the third period. A two-on-one with line mate Christ Kunitz formed and Crosby took advantage of the situation, selling the pass to Kunitz and shooting the puck himself blocker side on Halak. The quick release caught the Caps netminder by surprise, assuming the league leader in assists would do what he does best and dish the puck to Kunitz. Instead, Crosby ripped a perfect shot low, increasing the lead to two.
“I thought he was going to pass it and he shot it; it surprised me,” said Halak postgame. “It is what it is, I gave up that goal and we were in the hole. It’s tough to get out.”
A few last ditch efforts by Washington would be fruitless and the traveling Caps hung their heads down the tunnel, their season unraveling at their feet.
“It’s got to be urgency right now,” said Troy Brouwer. “It has to have been for the last few games already…when you’re coming from behind on teams like Pittsburgh and Boston, the other game, you’ve got an uphill battle. It’s real tough to come back from these teams when they get a lead on you. For us, we’re definitely trying to make the playoffs here. We have to beat these teams who are already in the playoffs and try to jump over them to get a spot when the playoffs start.”