It's been two months now since the trade deadline deal that brought defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to Washington. He has had some ups and downs on the ice since that Feb. 27 swap with St. Louis, but who hasn't?
Recently, though, the downs have outweighed the ups, so much so that Shattenkirk spoke to reporters at length about his struggles after Monday's morning skate here in Pittsburgh.
But the personable defenseman earned a measure of equity with Caps fans on Monday night when he whipped a shot past Pens goalie Marc-Andre Fleury from the high slot on a power play in overtime, giving Washington a 3-2 win over the Penguins in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series between the two teams.
Washington had a 2-0 lead with two minutes remaining in regulation in Monday's game, only to see it vanish when the Penguins scored a pair of six-on-five goals in a span of 48 seconds while Fleury was pulled for an extra attacker. Pittsburgh seemed to have all the momentum headed into overtime, but Shattenkirk's game-winner at 3:13 of the extra session rescued the game for the Capitals.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Shattenkirk nets PPG for OT win
"I think tonight was a great test for all of us," says Shattenkirk. "There were a lot of different moments in the game where we had to see what we were made of, and for me, it was a shift-by-shift process.
"Obviously I feel a lot different than when I was standing 12 hours ago with you [reporters], but I've got to make sure I carry this into next game. That's the most important thing.
"I'm going to enjoy it tonight, but we came here to win two games and the next game is going to be even tougher."
The win shaves Pittsburgh's lead in the best-of-seven series to 2-1, with Game 4 here on Wednesday night.
Credit should be given to Marcus Johansson, who collected the puck in neutral ice and tore into the Pittsburgh zone on a semi-breakaway, only to be hauled down from behind by Pens defenseman Trevor Daley. Shattenkirk's goal came 33 seconds into that overtime power play.
Video: Shattenkirk meets media after OT winner in Game 3
Pittsburgh played most of the game without captain Sidney Crosby, who left the game at 5:24 of the first and did not return. Caps defenseman Matt Niskanen caught Crosby with a cross-check to the head near the Washington net, and a two-minute minor penalty was announced in the arena.
Crosby was helped to his feet and off the ice, and he did not return. Later in the game, Pens forward Conor Sheary also departed after taking a "friendly fire" high hit from teammate Patric Hornqvist.
After the game, Pens coach Mike Sullivan was asked for an update on Crosby and Sheary, and was also asked what he thought of the cross-check.
"We don't have any updates on our injured guys," says Sullivan. "He will be evaluated overnight and then we'll go from there. I'd rather not share my opinion on that."
Video: ALL CAPS | May 1
Niskanen was made available to share his opinion.
"[It was a] two-on-one rush," he says. "[The Pens] made a little give-and-go play. I kind of get spinning around, and Crosby's taking a puck to the net across the crease there, and a collision is going to happen. And it happened fast. I caught him in the head with the stick."
Niskanen also made it clear that the cross-check was not intentional.
"Absolutely not, it wasn't intentional," he says. "I've seen the replay. Super [slow motion], it looks really bad. I caught him high. I think he's coming across, trying to score. As he's doing that, he's getting lower and lower. And when it's happening that fast, my stick and his head [collided]. I wasn't extending, trying to hit him in the head. It happened quickly."
Video: Caps players talk after a 3-2 OT/win in Game 3
That minor penalty to Niskanen was quickly altered into a major and a game misconduct, leaving the Pens with an all-you-can-eat, five-minute power play early in the game, and a glorious chance to put the Caps in a deep hole in the game, and potentially, the series.
Fortunately for Washington, Pittsburgh's Evgeni Malkin was assessed a minor for closing his hand on the puck just over a minute later, cutting two minutes out of the heart of that extended Pittsburgh man advantage.
The Caps navigated their way through Niskanen's major, and then got a power play of their own when Carl Hagelin was sent off for hi-sticking John Carlson at 11:26 of the frame. When Bryan Rust sailed the puck over the glass seconds later, the Caps were suddenly looking at a five-on-three power play of 77 seconds in duration.
With the Caps on the two-man advantage, they still were unable to find a good shooting lane or a seam with which to make a cross-ice feed to the back door. Parked just off the right post, Nicklas Backstrom surveyed and tried to make that cross-ice back door feed. Instead, the puck ramped up off Fleury's stick, hit Pens defenseman Ian Cole and plopped into the cage for a 1-0 Washington lead at 13:05 of the first.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Backstrom banks in PPG off defender
At 1:05 of the second, the Pens appeared to tie the game on a three-on-two rush when Chris Kunitz tipped Malkin's pass behind Caps goalie Braden Holtby as he bumped into him. But the Capitals issued a successful coach's challenge, and the goal was wiped off the board, preserving the 1-0 margin.
Washington fell back into penalty trouble in the second, taking a trio of minor penalties in a span of roughly nine minutes. Two of those penalties where whistled on Evgeny Kuznetsov, both of them at the Pittsburgh end of the ice. Again, Holtby was solid. He stopped all six Pittsburgh shots during those man advantage opportunities to preserve the Caps' slim 1-0 lead.
Late in the middle period, Kuznetsov had a terrific look at a mostly empty net on a rebound opportunity. But he shanked the shot, and Fleury was able to reach back and stop it just before it reached the goal line, using his paddle.
Fleury made a glove save on Johansson during a Capitals power play early in the third, and once again the Washington shooter was unable to get full velocity on the shot, enabling Fleury to get over and make the stop.
With Pittsburgh pressing hard for the equalizer midway through the third, Washington was able to force a turnover near the Capitals' line, generating a three-on-two rush into Pittsburgh ice. Some slick passing from linemates Johansson and Justin Williams left Kuznetsov with the puck and with Fleury prone, and the Caps center did not miss this time, lifting the puck into the net for a 2-0 Washington lead at 9:46.
Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Kuznetsov finishes slick passing play
The Penguins are Stanley Cup champs, and they are nothing if not resilient. They exerted a lot of will in those final two minutes of regulation, winning draws, board battles and loose pucks to get a Malkin goal from the right circle at 18:07 and a Justin Schultz shot through traffic at 18:55 to tie the game. A bowed but not broken Caps team headed to the locker room to regroup after being unable to close out the champs in regulation.
Overtime was short, and there were more shots missed on both sides than put on net. But Shattenkirk's goal redeemed him and his team, and put the Caps in a position to square the series on Wednesday.
Given the alternative, that's a really good thing.
"It's another test for us," says Caps coach Barry Trotz. "You've got to park it, and I think we've been really good at parking stuff.
"In the overtime, we went for it. We've been in a few overtime games already, and our overtime record has been pretty good. Obviously the two six-on-five goals, we'd like to have gotten through that, but we didn't. So, regroup and do it in overtime. And we did."
Video: Coach Trotz talks after a 3-2 OT/win in Game 3
"It doesn't matter how we get the win," says Kuznetsov. "We just needed to get the win today and we did it. It doesn't matter how."