Cap­i­tals fall to Pen­guins in se­ries opener

Cap­i­tals stunned by Pen­guins star in loss

The Washington Times Daily - - FRONT PAGE - BY MATTHEW PARAS

Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals star Alex Ovechkin tried his best ear­lier in the week to down­play his ri­valry against Pitts­burgh Pen­guins star Sid­ney Crosby be­fore the two met in an­other se­cond round se­ries.

“Right now it’s not about me and him. It’s about Caps and Pen­guins,” Ovechkin said.

Ovechkin may be right, but in Thurs­day’s 3-2 loss to the Pen­guins, Crosby as­serted his dom­i­nance over the Cap­i­tals in Game 1 of the best-of-seven se­ries at the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter.

All he needed was 52 sec­onds.

Crosby scored two goals in just un­der a minute at the start of the se­cond pe­riod.

But like last year, the Pen­guins were able to win be­cause of their depth.

Pen­guins cen­ter Nick Bonino, who plays on the third line, scored the win­ning goal with 7:24 left af­ter the Cap­i­tals erased a 2-0 deficit.

The Cap­i­tals stormed back be­hind Ovechkin and for­ward Evgeny Kuznetsov. Ovechkin scored with 1:52 left in the se­cond pe­riod and Kuznetsov tied the game in the third.

Wash­ing­ton had to claw its way back af­ter Crosby’s stun­ning strikes early in the se­cond.

The first goal was the re­sult of a Cap­i­tals turnover in the neu­tral zone, re­sult­ing in a 2-on-1 that gave Crosby enough room to score only 12 sec­onds in the se­cond. Be­fore the Cap­i­tals had time to blink, Crosby con­verted an­other puck di­rectly off

goal­tender Braden Holtby’s back­side.

This is the se­cond con­sec­u­tive year the Pen­guins-Cap­i­tals have met in the play­offs. Last year, Pitts­burgh elim­i­nated Wash­ing­ton, 4-2.

For a se­ries play­ers said they had waited all year for, the Cap­i­tals got off to a slow start.

The Pen­guins en­tered the game ranked No. 2 on the power play and Wash­ing­ton had to face it early. Ovechkin was called for an in­ter­fer­ence penalty on Pa­tric Horn­qvist with 16:22 left in the first, but Wash­ing­ton’s penalty kill did its job.

Wash­ing­ton had only one shot on goal un­til 5:17 was left in the first pe­riod. But the Cap­i­tals used the fi­nal five min­utes to find an of­fen­sive spark as they crowded bod­ies around the net. It blocked Pen­guins goalie Marc-An­dre Fleury’s vi­sion and the Cap­i­tals led the pe­riod in shots on goal, 6-4.

The Cap­i­tals spent the last year im­prov­ing the bot­tom end of their ros­ter to pre­pare for teams like the Pen­guins. They traded for cen­ter Lars Eller in the off­sea­son and then ac­quired Kevin Shat­tenkirk from St. Louis at the trade dead­line for depth. Trotz said depth was one of the rea­sons Pitts­burgh won the Stan­ley Cup last year.

The Pen­guins and the Cap­i­tals have met 10 times in the play­offs, with three of those com­ing in the Crosby-Ovechkin era.

Pitts­burgh held off a Wash­ing­ton team that out­shot them 35-21, in part, be­cause of their de­fense.

The Pen­guins have with­stood key in­juries this sea­son, in­clud­ing los­ing star de­fense­man Kris Letang to a sea­so­nend­ing neck in­jury. Letang only played in 41 games, but Pitts­burgh’s de­fense adapted to the strengths of their six other de­fense­men.

Fleury was also ex­cel­lent with 33 saves.

The No. 1 seeded Cap­i­tals again this year ended the reg­u­lar sea­son with the league’s best record, but were un­ex­pect­edly pushed to six games in the first round of the play­offs by a young and pesky Toronto Maple Leafs.

Five of the six games against the Leafs went to over­time.

The Pen­guins, mean­while, took care of the slump­ing Colum­bus Blue Jack­ets, win­ning their first-round se­ries in five games.

The Cap­i­tals won two and lost two against the Pen­guins this sea­son, with Pitts­burgh’s wins com­ing in over­time, but the teams haven’t played since Jan­uary. The last game of the se­ries re­sulted in an en­ter­tain­ing 8-7 shootout for the Pen­guins.

Game 2 is set for Satur­day at the Ver­i­zon Cen­ter be­fore the se­ries shifts Mon­day to Pitts­burgh.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS PHO­TO­GRAPHS

Pen­guins goalie Marc-An­dre Fleury stops the shot of Cap­i­tals wing T.J. Oshie in the se­cond pe­riod of Game 1 on Thurs­day. The Pen­guins won, 3-2.

Pen­guins cen­ter Sid­ney Crosby cel­e­brates one of his two se­cond-pe­riod goals against the Cap­i­tals with Pa­tric Horn­qvist and Jake Guentzel in Game 1 on Thurs­day.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

The Cap­i­tals’ Alex Ovechkin, who had a se­cond-pe­riod goal, chases the puck against the Pen­guins’ Pa­tric Horn­qvist on Thurs­day.

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