The 2009 second-round series between the Penguins and Capitals stands up as one of the most memorable post-lockout playoff matchups. That series featured three games that went to overtime and five one-goal games in a series that went seven games before Pittsburgh emerged victorious. With that series in mind, 2016’s second-round meeting between the two clubs had a lot to live up to. However, if Game 1 is any indication, the two sides shouldn’t have any problem meeting or surpassing the hype.
And it’s fitting that in a series most remembered for a game with duelling hat tricks from Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, the 2016 meeting opened with a hat trick that will be remembered and talked about for some time. But it wasn’t Crosby or Ovechkin who found the back of the net three times Thursday. It was T.J. Oshie, and he picked the perfect time to score the his third tally to complete the hat trick: overtime.
Each of Oshie’s goals on the night were great, too. The first came on a perfect shot over the glove of Penguins goaltender Matt Murray, the second on a deke that slipped under Murray's pad and the third on a wraparound that didn't come without controversy. Oshie’s overtime winner came as he showed an incredible bit of patience to pull Murray out of position before slipping around the back of the net and tucking the puck in the far side. But the wraparound barely — seriously, it’s by no more than a quarter of an inch — crossed the goal line.
The hat trick is sweet for Oshie, but it’s no doubt made sweeter by the fact that this is was the first time Oshie had scored in a playoff game his team has won. Fitting, too, that in order for that to be the case Oshie had to be the one to almost single-handedly win the game. But Oshie scoring the winner highlights the biggest difference between the Capitals as currently constructed compared to past rosters. This time around, when Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are shut down, someone else has found the way to take over. It’s the very reason Oshie was acquired in the off-season, and it’s why the emergence of Evgeny Kuznetsov turned this team into a regular season juggernaut. When the big-name stars aren’t scoring, there’s someone else there to pick up the slack.
Game 1 might have been a sign that depth is what the series will be decided on. Besides Evgeni Malkin’s second period goal, the big names were mostly held off the scoresheet. Ovechkin picked up an assist, but Crosby and Backstrom didn’t factor in as far as the scoring goes. Instead, it was Nick Bonino who powered the Penguins offense while Oshie very clearly led the charge for the Capitals. That’s not to mention the strong game from Washington’s Andre Burakovsky, who opened the scoring and had two good chances in overtime.
The play of both goaltenders in Game 1 shouldn’t be overlooked, either. Even though seven goals were scored, Murray turned away 31 shots and Braden Holtby stopped 42 of the 45 shots Pittsburgh put his way. Barring the second goal of Oshie’s, one which barely slid under Murray’s pad, there wasn’t a regrettable goal from either netminder, and the Penguins rookie keeper nearly stole the overtime winner by scrambling back across his crease. He was only fractions of a second late.
Everything about this series has classic written all over it. Name it and Game 1 had it. The 2009 series has stood the test of time as one of the most memorable modern-era post-season series, and after Game 1, the 2016 meeting between the Penguins and Capitals is looking like it could be another seven games of can’t-miss hockey.