Two nights after the two best teams in the NHL went head-to-head in Game 1 of their second-round playoff series, the Capitals and the Penguins will reconvene on F St. for the next chapter in this unfolding story.
The Pens grabbed Game 1 by a 3-2 score, but the Caps played well enough over most of the game that major adjustments shouldn't be required on Washington's part.
"We have to play desperate before we go down a goal," says Caps center Jay Beagle. "It's pretty simple. Our start wasn't great and theirs wasn't either, but there's no excuse in our barn.
"We have to have the start that we want; we have to dictate the game. And I think we haven't done a good job in all of the playoffs dictating the game and starting the way we want to start, and just taking it to teams. So we've got to look to do that in Game 2, and continue the way that we played, but make sure that our start is strong and go after them and dictate the style and the play and the pace that we want to play."
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Pittsburgh accomplished the mission of the road team in a best-of-seven set, to win at least one of those first two games on the road before the series shifts locales. That puts the Pens in a position to get greedy and go for two wins in Washington. The Caps haven't lost consecutive home games all season, but they're just 2-2 in four postseason games at Verizon Center after winning 20 of their last 23 (20-2-1) here during the regular season.
"I just think we've got to stay hungry," says Penguins coach Mike Sullivan. "We know we got a win in Game 1, which is great. This team has a resilience about it and a certain knack for finding ways to win. I think it starts with their competitive spirit. But certainly by no means are we satisfied, and I think that's an important message for all of us.
"We've got to make sure we stay hungry, we've got to reset our mindset. We've got try to go out and win a game. Our main focus here is just on the one game ahead of us. We're not trying to dwell on the past or look into the future. We're trying to stay right in the moment and make sure that we bring our very best."
Including playoff games, the Caps have lost their last six visits to Pittsburgh's PPG Paints Arena. Washington must win one game in that building to advance to the Eastern Conference final, but if it loses Game 2 on home ice, the Caps will need to win at least two games there.
With a 31-6-4 mark at home during the regular season and 3-0 thus far during the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Pens are every bit as good on home ice as the Caps are.
"Obviously it's an important game," says Caps captain Alex Ovechkin of Saturday's Game 2. "We know we can't give them a 2-0 lead. Everybody understands that. So it's going to be a hard game for both teams, and it's going to be fun."
Video: Caps players talk to media before #CapsPens Game 2
New Blood - Washington will make a lineup adjustment for Saturday's Game 2, inserting winger Paul Carey into the fourth line right wing slot for Brett Connolly. Connolly has yet to record a point in seven playoff games this spring, and his ice time has been curtailed sharply since he was moved from the Caps' third line to its fourth line midway through the team's opening round series with Toronto.
"With what we're trying to do," says Caps coach Barry Trotz, "[Carey] will be a real good fit. He is a hard worker. He hasn't had an opportunity, and when he has gone in he has done a real good job. I'm just looking for a little bit of a fit.
"He's a tremendous skater, he puts pressure on people, he can get to space and those type of things. He is a veteran guy, and he is a player who has done well at every level, and that's why he has been with us for a while."
Video: Caps head coach Barry Trotz talks before Game 2
Carey finished the 2016-17 regular season with 24 goals and 55 points in 55 games at the AHL level, the best numbers of his six seasons in that circuit. Carey was without a point in half a dozen NHL games with Washington this season.
A top six forward with the 2015-16 Calder Cup finalist Hershey Bears team in the AHL, Carey didn't play at all in Hershey's run to the final last spring because he was recovering from surgery to repair a torn labrum.
"I'm very amped," says Carey. "It's going to be a lot of fun. It definitely wasn't fun watching last year and being in the stands for that run. I'm just glad to be healthy and ready to go this year.
Carey played in four Calder Cup playoff games with the AHL Providence Bruins in 2015 and also skated in three Stanley Cup playoff contests with the Colorado Avalanche in the spring of 2014.
Shooting Through - Washington teed up a total of 83 shot attempts in Game 1, but only 42.2 percent of those tries were shots on net. The Penguins blocked 29 of the Caps' shot attempts and 19 others missed the mark altogether.
"You've got to find lanes," says Caps winger Justin Williams. "Fake shots, the forwards in front of the net need to do a better job of boxing [the Penguins' defensemen] out. There are a lot of things you can do."
The Caps faced a similar problem early in their series with the Penguins last spring. Only 35 of the Capitals' 76 shot attempts (46.1 percent) found their way to the net in Game 1 last spring, as the Pens blocked 27 shots that night. In Game 2, the Penguins had as many blocked shots (24) as the Caps had shots on net.
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Washington improved in getting a higher percentage of its shot tries on net over the remainder of that series, but in seven playoff games against Pittsburgh over the last two springs, the Caps have managed to get 48.4 percent of all shot tries on goal while Pittsburgh has managed a 52.2 percent success rate in that regard.
"You've got to get shots through," says Caps center Nicklas Backstrom. "That's something we've talked about. It was the same last year; they were blocking a lot of shots. Somehow, you've got to try to get it around them. And obviously with traffic in front of the net, maybe we can create some secondary chances there."
In the playoffs, it's the little things that make a difference. Blocking shots is critical, and finding ways to get even a few more shots through to the net can be just as critical. Washington has now played eight straight one-goal games in the playoffs, and 13 of its last 14 postseason contests have been decided by the slimmest of margins. The outcome one of those games might have been altered by one more or one less blocked shot in each of them.
"It's playoff time; you sacrifice your body all the time," says Trotz. "You get in lanes. If you're not in a lane, make it difficult for the other team to get the puck to the net. I think that's every coach's philosophy going into the playoffs."
Video: The panel previews the upcoming Game 2: PIT vs. WSH
In The Nets - Braden Holtby stopped 18 of 21 shots in Thursday's series opener against the Penguins, and the Caps netminder assumed responsibility for Sidney Crosby's first goal in Game 1, and also for Nick Bonino's game-winner in the third period.
Holtby's three-game winning streak came to an end with Thursday's loss.
"Braden, I thought he was fine but he didn't think he played as good as he could," says Trotz. "But I do know this and I've told you this; that he is a guy who responds. He's going to be better, he's going to be better [Saturday]. That's good for us."
After limiting the Philadelphia Flyers to two or fewer goals in each of the six games in the first round of the 2016 Stanley Cup playoffs, Holtby has permitted three or more goals in eight of 13 playoff starts since, and he has done so in five of seven playoff games against the Penguins
"I thought he was okay," says Williams of Holtby. "His standards are higher than most goalies in the league, and his competitive fire is one of the best I've seen. That's the last guy I look at and worry about if he came to play."
Lifetime against the Penguins in Stanley Cup play, Holtby is now 2-5 with a 2.64 GAA and a .917 save pct.
Filling in for the injured Matt Murray, Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury ran his record to 5-1 in the 2017 playoffs with Thursday's Game 1 victory over the Capitals. Fleury stopped 33 of 35 shots in Game 1, and his .934 save pct. in the 2017 playoffs is fourth best among the eight starting goaltenders whose teams are still alive in the postseason.
The 35 shots Washington sailed at Fleury on Thursday are the most the Capitals have managed in eight playoff games against Fleury. Lifetime against Washington in the Stanley Cup playoffs, Fleury is now 5-3 with a 2.89 GAA and an .888 save pct.
"They're a layered team in the [defensive] zone," says Caps defenseman John Carlson of the Penguins. "Their second later center and [defensemen] really like to get out in front of pucks. And we've got to do a better job of getting to the net front. On certain occasions where we have had cleaner looks, we haven't really been there.
"So that will be something for us for sure, that we have to impact Fleury on tonight. He is a good goalie; we know what he is capable of. Just keep sending guys there. [The Penguins] are going to be diving everywhere when we get chances like we did, towards the end of last game. We've just got to find a way to score."
"In a series," says Trotz, "there are going to be games where a goalie is going to make one more save, or your goalie is going to make one more save, when you have two good teams. You want to go into every game feeling that our goalie is as good as their goalie, and I've felt that way the last three years, really.
"Holts and Fleury both have pretty good pedigree and they are both good goalies. It will up to us to affect Fleury, probably on the [Pittsburgh] side to affect Holts."
All Lined Up - Pittsburgh forward Carl Hagelin is nearly ready to return to the lineup from an absence related to a lower body injury, and - although he didn't skate at Saturday's optional morning skate - he could supplant one of the four bottom six wingers listed below for the Pens, pending a game-time decision.
"It doesn't mean anything," says Sullivan of Hagelin's absence at morning skate. "This morning was an optional skate. So everybody will be game-time decisions."
With that in mind, here is how we expect the Capitals to look tonight and how the Penguins lined up for Game 1.
8-Ovechkin, 19-Backstrom, 77-Oshie
90-Johansson, 92-Kuznetsov, 14-Williams
65-Burakovsky, 20-Eller, 43-Wilson
26-Winnik, 83-Beagle, 28-Carey
27-Alzner (upper body)
59-Guentzel, 87-Crosby, 72-Hornqvist
17-Rust, 71-Malkin, 81-Kessel
23-Wilson, 13-Bonino, 43-Sheary
14-Kunitz, 7-Cullen, 34-Kuhnhackl
2-Ruhwedel (upper body)
30-Murray (lower body)
58-Letang (neck surgery)
62-Hagelin (lower body)