CROSBY AND CO. DELIVER CAPITAL PUNISHMENT
Another Washington playoff flop as Penguins march on
WASHINGTON Backed by a 29-save shutout from the acrobatic and once-forgotten Marc-Andre Fleury, the Pittsburgh Penguins did what they usually do Wednesday by eliminating the Washington Capitals.
Their 2-0 victory at the Verizon Center improved the Penguins’ record to 4-0 against the Capitals in Game 7s and 9-1 in all-time playoff series against Washington.
The Penguins will now host the Ottawa Senators in an Eastern Conference final that is expected to start Saturday in Pittsburgh.
“What a story,” Penguins centre Matt Cullen said when asked about the Senators, a team he played 21 games for in the 2009-10 season. “They’re playing great. … We’ve had some good games with them this year. We know they’re a really dangerous team.”
The Senators and Penguins have met four times in post-season play. The Senators won the first set in five games, in 2007, but then lost the next three, starting with a sweep in 2008 before 2010 (six games) and 2013 (five games).
The Senators were 2-1-0 in their season series with the Penguins this year. Fleury was not ready to think about facing the Senators immediately after his starring performance against the Capitals.
“Oh geez. Not yet,” he said. “I’ll be happy to enjoy tonight and think about them tomorrow.”
And the Capitals will fret over yet another lost opportunity. Washington has not made it past the second round of the playoffs since going to the finals in 1998. Significant changes will be expected after the team cruised to the Presidents’ Trophy with a 55-19-8 regular-season record. That might even include Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, the only player on his team to have a minus-2 beside his name Wednesday.
Asked about Ovechkin’s game, Capitals head coach Barry Trotz said: “Emotionally, I don’t want to answer that right now.”
Bryan Rust and Patric Hornqvist scored the Penguins’ goals against Braden Holtby, who made 26 saves.
Fleury took care of business around the Pittsburgh net. Relegated to backup duties when Matt Murray led the Penguins to their Cup win last spring, Fleury took over between the pipes when Murray suffered an undisclosed injury during the warm-up before the Penguins’ first playoff game this spring.
On Wednesday, Murray suited up for the first time since to serve as the Penguins’ backup. He watched from the bench as the Penguins outshot the Capitals for the first time in the series.
After being in a 3-1 series hole and coming back to tie it up, there was a feeling the Capitals would finally get past their nemesis — especially after a convincing 5-2 win on Monday.
“There was such a difference from Game 6 in scoring chances against,” Fleury said. “I thought we did a great job helping out around the net and not giving them too much space. It was nice.”
Rust, who had a hat trick in an 8-5 win over the Senators in December, scored his sixth goal of the playoffs to break a scoreless tie at 8:49 of the second period.
The Capitals had a chance to clear the zone, but the puck was kept in at the blue-line and moved in to Sidney Crosby. He slid a pass to Jake Guentzel, who held on for a second before feeding Rust. His quick shot beat Holtby over the left shoulder.
Fleury’s best save of the game was off a one-timer from Ovechkin in the second period.
Hornqvist put the Penguins up by a pair at the 4:14 mark of the third, right after Ovechkin failed to bear down to get the puck out at the blue-line. Hornqvist’s fourth of the post-season was a perfect backhand that went through the legs of Capitals defenceman Nate Schmidt and off the bar past Holtby’s catching mitt.
The Penguins, who defeated the San Jose Sharks in a six-game final last season, are not yet playing to the level they’ve believe they can this spring.
“Obviously a lot of people counted us out after the last game,” Cullen said. “I can understand it. We didn’t have a good game. They kind of ran all over us.
“It’s a credit to the character in the room to respond the way we did, come out and have a really good game. We’ll have an opportunity to do something special now. That was a big step.”
Said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan: “This was hands down the best game we’ve played in the playoffs.”
“I think this was a good character win for us,” he said.
Pittsburgh Penguins teammates celebrate Bryan Rust’s goal in the second period of Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Washington Capitals on Wednesday in Washington, D.C. The Penguins won 2-0 and will next play the Ottawa...