The Caps rebounded from a 3-2 third-period deficit to score four unanswered goals - two of them empty-netters - in the third period on Saturday, earning a 6-3 win over the Penguins in Game 5 of the second-round Stanley Cup playoff series between the two teams.
The second period of Saturday's Game 5 was a rugged one for the Capitals. They spent much of it killing a quartet of minor penalties, and succeeding on only half of them. Caps goalie Braden Holtby faced 18 shots in the middle frame, seven of them while Pittsburgh had the manpower advantage. Washington owned a slim 2-1 lead at the outset of the period, but - for the third straight game in this series - the Caps were down a goal heading to the final frame.
Not to worry, kid.
Video: #ALLCAPS All-Access | Just Keep Believing
Evgeny Kuznetsov, who scored the first goal of the series just 17 seconds after the opening puck drop in Game 1, took a tape-to-tape feed from Jakub Vrana and exploited a gaping gap in the Pittsburgh defense with top Pens pairing Brian Dumoulin and Kris Letang on the ice. Kuznetsov glided in and tucked the puck through the legs of Pens goalie Matt Murray, tying the game at 3-3 just 52 seconds into the third.
Kuznetsov's goal was critical; it prevented the Pens from simply taking the air out of the game as they did in Game 4 when they limited the Caps to just three shots on goal - none of them in the last nine minutes - in a game Washington trailed by just one.
Late in the third, the Caps went back in front for the first time since early in the second period. Holtby denied Dumoulin, who jumped up into the play and had a glorious one-on-one chance to put the Pens back on top. Instead, Holtby made a brilliant left pad stop, kicking the puck to Kuznetsov, who headed up ice in transition. Kuznetsov fed Alex Ovechkin, who drove deep on the right side before curling a pass back to the net front, where Vrana banged it in to put the Caps up, 4-3.
In a matter of eight seconds, a two-goal swing was affected. Instead of Dumoulin putting Pittsburgh up by one, it was Vrana scoring what would prove to be the game-winner, his second game-winner of the series.
Holtby was magnificent all night. He surrendered the game's first goal on a point shot through traffic from Pens defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, a shot that nicked Caps defenseman Brooks Orpik on its way into the net at 2:23 of the first, and he yielded the two power-play goals in the second period. One of those extra-man tallies came on a deflection in front, and the other came on a third opportunity, after Holtby had stopped the first two Pittsburgh tried from in tight.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Holtby robs Dumoulin's try in front
According to naturalstattrick.com, Pittsburgh had seven high-danger scoring chances to one for Washington in the second period, and the Pens owned an 11-3 advantage in that department after 40 minutes of play.
Five games into the series, Pittsburgh owns a significant 69-49 lead over Washington in high-danger scoring chances in all situations and at all strengths. But Holtby owns a .913 high-danger save pct. in this round, tops among all second round goaltenders.
Although they've given up the largest disparity of high-danger chances of any team in the second round, the Caps have actually outscored the Pens 8-6 on high-danger opportunities, and Murray's .837 high-danger save pct. is second-worst among second-round netminders.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Holtby turns aside Brassard, Oleksiak
The Kuznetsov and Vrana goals were obviously critical to the Caps' Game 5 comeback, but without Holtby's heroics throughout the night - and the series, for that matter - Washington doesn't even have an opportunity to come back on Saturday night to earn its second straight come-from-behind victory in the third period.
Instead, the Caps now head to Pittsburgh for Game 6 on Monday night, and a chance to close out the champs.
Thirteen - Vrana entered Saturday's game with two career playoff points (one goal, one assist) in 10 games. Despite skating less than 11 minutes (10:52) on the night, Vrana scored the game-winning goal and added a pair of primary helpers for the first multiple-point playoff game of his NHL career.
The 22-year-old Vrana is the first Caps rookie to have as many as three points in a playoff game since Kuznetsov had two goals and an assist in Game 5 of a first-round series against the Islanders on April 23, 2015. Prior to Kuznetsov, Richard Zednik (May 28, 1998) was the last Caps rookie with as many as three points in a playoff game.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Vrana slams home go-ahead tally
Vrana is the first NHL rookie with a three-point game in the playoffs since Pittsburgh's Bryan Rust had two goals and a helper against the New York Rangers on April 23, 2016.
Both of Vrana's goals in these playoffs have been game-winners, making him the first Caps rookie ever with two game-winners in a single playoff season.
Pop Pops One - A day after he and his wife became parents for a second time, Caps defenseman John Carlson continued his playoff scoring spree with a power-play goal - Washington's first tally of the game - late in the first period.
Carlson, now the proud father of two boys, scored his third goal of the playoffs and ran his point total to 11 with his extra-man tally. All three of Carlson's playoff goals have come on the power play, and his 11 points rank second among NHL blueliners in the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Carlson buries PPG from high slot
Additionally, Carlson is now a point shy of matching the Caps' franchise mark - a record he currently shares - for most points by a defenseman in a single playoff year. Kevin Hatcher (five goals, seven assists) and Scott Stevens (one goal, 11 assists) each had a dozen points in 1988 while Carlson (five goals, seven assists) hit that mark previously in 2016.
Quick Strikes - Carlson scored at 18:22 of the first period, tying the game at 1-1 at that point. Just 33 seconds later, Brett Connolly scored from the slot to give the Caps their first lead of the night at 18:55.
The pair of quick strike goals was just a single tick shy of matching the Washington franchise record for fastest two playoff goals scored by two different players. Back on April 5, 1984, Craig Laughlin and Dave Christian scored 32 seconds apart in a playoff game against Philadelphia.
Video: PIT@WSH, Gm5: Capitals score two in 33 seconds
Five-For-Five on 5/5 - Saturday's victory was the fifth straight triumph for Washington in a Game 5 of a series that was even at 2-2 going in. The Caps won Game 5 of a 2-2 set against Columbus in the first round of this year's playoffs, and they also won Game 5 of their first-round set against Toronto last spring.
The Capitals won Game 5 over the Islanders in the first round in 2015 and downed the Rangers in Game 5 in 2013. The last time the Caps lost Game 5 of a tied series was in 2012, when they lost a 3-2 overtime decision to the Rangers in New York.
Video: Caps 365 | May 5
Powering Up - Eleven games into their 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs voyage, the Capitals have scored at least one power-play goal in 10 of the games they've played. The only game in which Washington did not score on the power play is Game 1 of its current series against the Penguins. The Caps only had one power play opportunity in that game, and it was a mere 32 seconds in length.
Washington's total of 13 power-play goals this spring is tops in the playoffs, and the Caps' 31.7% success rate with the extra man is second only to Boston (36.7%).
Video: Capitals Postgame Locker Room | May 5
By The Numbers - Carlson led the Caps with 25:47 in ice time … Carlson and T.J Oshie tied for the team lead with four shots on net each, and Carlson led the way with nine shot attempts … Devante Smith-Pelly paced Washington with five hits … Carlson, Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Backstrom led the Caps with two blocked shots each.