The Washington Capitals aren’t going to go away quietly. Alex Ovechkin had his best game of the series, Braden Holtby was outstanding and the Capitals skated away with a 3-1 victory in Game 5.
For Washington to stay alive in their second-round series against Pittsburgh, the Capitals’ stars would need to be their stars in Game 5. Alex Ovechkin absolutely got that message.
Ovechkin had been fairly quiet production-wise through the first four games of the series, racking up just one goal and three points, but it was evident early on that the Capitals’ captain was going to be making a difference in some way Saturday night. Only four minutes into the contest, with Washington on the power play, Ovechkin set up shop, loaded up and blasted home his second goal of the series to give the Capitals an early 1-0 lead. That was just the beginning of his night, though.
After his goal, he added an assist but it was about more than what he did that showed up on the scoreboard. He was a force to be reckoned with in Game 5. Ovechkin finished with almost 20 minutes of ice time, six shots on goal, nine shot attempts, three hits, two takeaways and a blocked shot. It’s a phrase repeated often, but Ovechkin seemed to be literally all over the ice throughout the game. That’s exactly what the Capitals needed, and of course it was Ovechkin who delivered.
Even with Ovechkin as the standout star, though, a series that has been all about the supporting cast continued to follow that pattern. Ovechkin’s game-opening goal was quickly matched by a power play marker from Penguins winger Chris Kunitz, but goals from T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams put the Capitals ahead for good. And it was Williams’ goal where Washington finally appeared to exploit the one weakness this Pittsburgh team may have, which is thin depth on the blueline.
Williams’ goal came midway through the second period when Penguins third-pairing defenseman Brian Dumoulin was pressured by Capitals winger Jason Chimera after the puck was chipped into the Pittsburgh zone. The pressure by Chimera caused Dumoulin to cough up the puck, putting it right on Williams’ tape and the veteran winger — who was brought in for exactly this type of post-season situation — made no mistake. He found Penguins goaltender Matt Murray’s five-hole and gave Washington a 3-1 lead, which would stand as the final score.
The performance of goaltender Braden Holtby was also brilliant, especially a two-save sequence he made in the second period. Holtby, who stopped 30 of 31 shots in Game 5, robbed Patric Hornqvist late in the first period with a right pad save, and 16 seconds later stole what looked like a sure goal from Penguins defenseman Justin Schultz.
The Capitals’ Game 5 win doesn’t solve all their problems, however. They’re still trailing the series 3-2, they’re heading to the CONSOL Energy Center where Pittsburgh had the sixth-best home record in the league and even the slightest mistake could cost Washington the series and their season. But if they can replicate their Game 5 performance, it’s hard to imagine the Capitals don’t push this series to seven games. Don’t discount what Washington’s performance may do to Pittsburgh, either.
Saturday’s loss may put some doubt into the mind of Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. While Murray made some big saves, he allowed three goals on 19 shots. The goal by Williams, while coming off a poor turnover by Dumoulin, was one that Murray very well could have had. It wasn’t the performance that was expected of Murray, especially with the standard he’s set throughout the post-season and this series’ first four games. And maybe the questions wouldn’t be asked of Murray were he the Penguins only option, but remember that Pittsburgh has a healthy and ready-to-go Marc-Andre Fleury sitting on the bench. It’d be best for the Penguins not to panic, but Sullivan will almost certainly entertain the option of putting Fleury between the pipes for Game 6.
Pittsburgh has some work to do — and some decisions to make — before Tuesday night. Defensively they’ll need to play tighter and more will be expected out of Murray or Fleury, whoever gets the call. Most importantly, though, the Penguins need to find a way to get back to shutting down Ovechkin the way they had through the series’ first four games. Because if the ‘Great 8’ has come alive at just the right time, Game 6 could have been the start of a miracle comeback by the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Capitals.