The Penguins had a 3-1 series lead over the President Trophy winners.
They had a 3-1 lead against a goalie who will likely win the Vezina Trophy as best NHL goaltender, Braden Holtby.
They had a 3-1 lead against a Capitals team with stellar offensive power and a strong defense.
It was only a matter of time before the Capitals found their game, as the they went on to beat the Penguins 3-1 in Washington DC in game 5, trimming the Penguins’ series lead to 3-2 and forcing game 6 Tuesday night at Consol Energy Center.
Throughout Twitter, word of mouth, text messages, the radio, and other forms of media, I seem to be getting 2 different vibes about this Penguins team: one side of the spectrum believes that the Penguins will respond well in game 6 at home and finish of the Capitals. The other side of the spectrum is saying, “Oh no, here comes a repeat of 2011 and 2014: blowing that 3-1 series lead..”
To those of you that truly believe the Penguins will win game 6, I’m glad you believe in this hockey team. For those of you on the other side of the spectrum, aka the “Pens are gonna blow a 3-1 series lead again” side, I simply say don’t worry…at least not yet.
First of all, the Penguins just lost 1 game. They didn’t lose the series. The have a chance to win at home, and even if they fail to do that, they could still win game 7 in Washington…which they did en route to a Stanley Cup in 2009.
Although the Penguins did have a chance to finish off the President’s Trophy winner Washington Capitals, did anyone (not Penguins fans alone) think that the Pens would even win this series? It seemed to me that many analysts were picking the Capitals in this series. So, in that fact alone, the fact that the Penguins are even up 3-2 in this series thus far is still pretty incredible.
Finally, although the Penguins had a 3-1 series lead, which is now a 3-2 series lead, it really did not feel that way going into game 5. Going into game 5, every game was decided be a goal excluding game 2 (which was a 2 goal win by the Penguins due to a late empty net goal by Letang), which included 2 games, game 1 and game 4, both decided in overtime. The Caps won game 1 on an OT winner by TJ Oshie, capping off a hat trick, and the Pens won game 4 on a goal from Patric Hornqvist. It also includes a game 3 where the Capitals probably deserved to win and played much better hockey than the Pens, but Matt Murray simply stood on his head while making 47 saves, the most ever by a rookie goaltender in a playoff win.
Say the Capitals win game 3 without Murray’s heroics, and say they score the winning goal in OT in game 4. All of a sudden, Washington just won this series tonight 4-1. Crazy, huh?
My point I want to make is that this series has been way closer than it appears. Heck, the Capitals win game 5 while being outshot 32-22 by the Penguins. Holtby played his best game of the series, their power play came through large by scoring 2 goals, and Murray played just alright. The Penguins did not play a terrible hockey game. They just didn’t get the result they wanted.
So I say once again, don’t worry just yet. The Penguins can still close this out at home. If they don’t…then we can start worrying. But remember, it’s not over ’til it’s over.
Some quick observations about game 5…
- Patric Hornqvist, a player that everyone on the team loves including Sullivan, played only 10:36 of ice time in game 5. Only Fehr (10:13) and Kuhnhackl (8:09) had less ice time. It did not appear Hornqvist was ever injured, but he did not see his normal ice time in this game. Something to keep note of going forward.
- The Penguins need to neutralize Ovi. He had the opening tally tonight, and his first via his classic one-time slap shot on the power play. He has had one too many open chances in this series, and it was about time he buried one. He is starting to feel it, and the Pens need to shut him down before he really gets hot.
- Crosby and Malkin need to step up. I know there is more to it than just putting points up, but these 2 guys need to do what they’re paid to do. The other guys have been picking up the slack, but its about time one of them has a big game. Game 6 would be preferable. It won’t be easy, however, as the Caps get probably their most physical defensemen Brooks Orpik back for game 6 after serving his 3 game suspension for his hit on Olli Maatta.
- The Penguins power play needs to just shoot the puck. The one goal they had tonight was because their power play was moving and kept Washinton’s defense scrambling by getting the puck to the net. Kunitz jammed in the rebound. They seem to be looking for the perfect chance, but that just can’t happen every time. Fire the puck quickly on goal, good things will come. This needs to be addressed. Also, noted, the pens despite terrific zone time didn’t register a shot after pulling Murray with 3 minutes to go. Let that sink in.
- I felt as though there were 2 very large moments in this game that really put it away for the Capitals. First was the goal by Williams, which resulted after a clear from Dumoulin fell right on his stick, and he made no mistake with it and curried it 5-hole on Murray giving the Caps a 3-1 edge. Then after the Pens went down 3-1, Justin Schultz had a miraculous chance in a 4 on 2 rush for the Pens, but Holtby made an unbelievable stop. It really felt like the game was over right there and then.
- The Penguins should stick with Murray for the rest of this series. Even if they lose game 6, I would not even consider putting in a cold Marc-Andre Fleury in for a game that means that much, even though he is your franchise goaltender. Let the kid that got you there play this one out. He deserves to finish what he started. If they advance, we can discuss who starts from there on out.
- Oh yeah, almost forgot. Pens in 6.