Washington Capitals thwarted power-play chance after power-play chance by the Pittsburgh Penguins without getting an opportunity of their own before finally yielding a late goal to force overtime.
But when the Capitals finally got a chance on the power play during OT, they made the most of it.
Dennis Wideman collected a feed from Nicklas Backstrom and snapped a shot past Pittsburgh goaltender Brent Johnson at 2:48 of the extra session to give Washington a 3-2 victory Thursday night at Consol Energy Center. It was the Caps' third consecutive victory to start the season (all in extra time) and it was the eighth straight victory for the Capitals in this city spread across three venues -- here, Mellon Arena and at Heinz Field, where Washington won 3-1 in the 2011 Winter Classic.
"It is huge," Washington defenseman Karl Alzner said of the win over the Caps' least-favorite team. "It is not a trend that we want to start by keeping on going into overtime, but the fact that we keep coming out on top is huge. This game was an emotional roller coaster. After the first period we weren’t feeling too good, but it was nice that we battled back at the end and hopefully that is a sign of a winning team."
Pittsburgh dominated this game early and late, but the Capitals, backed by strong goaltending from Tomas Vokoun, kept the game close and then capitalized on their lone power play. James Neal had both goals for the Penguins, who are now 3-0-2 to start the season.
The Penguins outshot the Capitals 41-19, including a 12-3 advantage in the opening period and 18-3 in the third. But Tomas Vokoun, signed during the offseason, did what the Caps brought him in to do -- steal games.
"I think we had a good game, came up a little short but overall we played well and we’ve got to keep going," Neal said.
Added Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau: "We may not have had the territorial edge or what have you, but sometimes you need goalies to steal you a game and tonight Tomas stole us a game."
Neal scored on the first shot of the game for Pittsburgh at 2:27 of the opening period. Evgeni Malkin carried the puck into the offensive zone and dropped it near the left wall for Steve Sullivan. Malkin went to the net and drew plenty of attention, while Sullivan sent a diagonal cross-ice pass to Neal, whose one-timer from the outside edge of the right circle beat Vokoun at the near post.
Vokoun stopped 35 straight shots after the goal before Neal tied forced overtime with a goal at 16:15 of the third period. Pittsburgh was unable to score on its first four chances on the power play, but the Penguins converted on No. 5 when Neal took a pass from Malkin and slipped a shot through the goalie’s legs just seconds after Vokoun robbed him.
It was his fourth goal of the young season -- Neal had just one goal in 20 games after joining the team in a trade from Dallas for defenseman Alex Goligoski late last season.
"I’m feeling good," Neal said. "Like I said coming in, having a full camp in Pittsburgh and getting settled and making Pittsburgh my home, and feeling comfortable, it definitely leads over to the ice."
The two guys on Washington’s team who have tormented Pittsburgh the most in recent years had the first two goals of the night for the Capitals. Mike Knuble leveled the score at one just 80 seconds into the second period with his first goal of the season.
It was a typical tally from the 39-year-oid, who prefers force to finesse. Knuble carried the puck along the goal line to the net, and while he never actually got a shot off, he knocked defenseman Derek Engelland into Johnson and the goalie moved his right leg off the near post -- just as the puck went off his left leg and across the line.
Alex Ovechkin scored his first goal of the season 40 seconds into the third to put Washington in front. Ovechkin tipped a Mike Green shot from between his legs up under the crossbar for his 19th goal in 25 regular-season games against the Penguins. Green thought the puck was in for sure, but the officials needed a video review to rule it a good goal.
Washington's captain had missed part of the week between the team’s final exhibition contest and the season-opening contest Saturday against Carolina because of a death in the family. He might not have been dominant in the team’s first two games, but he had six hits against Pittsburgh and created several scoring chances for teammates by drawing attention and passing the puck.
"I thought he was a lot more engaged in the game," Boudreau said. "I thought he was a lot better. He is working at both ends of ice and he is really trying. Sometimes you really try and get nothing and sometimes you really try and get four goals. He had some shots on goal and you can see progress."
There was a scary moment in the third period for Washington forward Jay Beagle, who was injured in a fight with Arron Asham. Beagle took a penalty and knocked Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang’s helmet off along the wall, and Asham challenged him to a fight shortly after. Asham dropped Beagle to the ice with consecutive punches, and Beagle needed help getting to the locker room. Boudreau said there was no immediate update on his condition.
"Jay got popped a pretty good one," Boudreau said. "He was playing a really good game, and challenged a pretty tough customer -- a guy that is used to fighting and Jay is not that used to fighting. He got tagged a good one."
It was the fifth game in eight days for the Penguins, but fatigue did not appear to be a factor. Malkin returned after missing the home opener Tuesday and had a strong performance.
Starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury was unable to play because he was sick and Brent Johnson stopped 16 of 19 shots in his place.
"A tough call like that late in a game, in overtime, gave them momentum," Johnson said. "It’s one of those we could have won if we got a bounce here or there."