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Capitals following Ovechkin's lead against Penguins

Washington feeding off of captain's skill, power, grit

by Tom Gulitti @tomgulittinhl / Staff Writer

PITTSBURGH -- Prior to the start of this Eastern Conference Second Round series, much of the focus was on the superstar matchup between Washington Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin and Pittsburgh Penguins captain Sidney Crosby.

The reality we all knew was that there was much more to these teams than those two players and that's proven out over the first three games. Crosby has yet to earn a point, but the Penguins lead the best-of-7 series 2-1 heading into Game 4 at Consol Energy Center on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports).

The third line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel has been the Penguins' best so far, scoring three goals and seven assists in the first three games, including Hagelin's winning goal in a 3-2 victory in Game 3 on Monday.

For the Capitals, Game 3 was another example of how much they follow Ovechkin's lead. Trying to will the Capitals back from a 3-0 deficit, Ovechkin had a goal and an assist, five shots on goal, 12 shot attempts and five hits in the third period alone. He finished the night with a goal and an assist, seven shots on goal, 18 attempted shots and nine hits.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Ovi snipes one from above the circle

"The great thing about [Ovechkin] is there's one of them in this League (and) we've got him," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said Tuesday. "He's very physical, he's a sniper, he's quick. You talk about skill, power, determination, all those things, he's got a lot of that and [in Game 3] he showed why he's a force."

On consecutive shifts in the third period, Ovechkin crunched Penguins defenseman Ian Cole with hits in the right corner of the Penguins' end. He also had two hits on defenseman Kris Letang and another on defenseman Brian Dumoulin in the third.

The Capitals have made it no secret that part of their game plan is to punish and wear down the Penguins defensemen. Of their 58 hits Monday, 30 targeted defensemen, including 10 on Letang, who will miss Game 3 Wednesday because of a one-game suspension.

Six of Ovechkin's nine hits were on Penguins defensemen, including three on Letang. Ovechkin leads the League with 49 hits in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

"We have to play physical. Not them," Ovechkin said "Their guys don't like to play physical. Obviously, their D is not that physical. We're bigger and stronger and we have to use it."

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Ovi lays big check on Cole

Ovechkin, who has one goal and two assists in the series, was just as much of a force shooting the puck. He kept hammering away at rookie goaltender Matt Murray, who made a career-high 47 saves but was left wondering how Ovechkin's wrist shot from the above the left circle screamed in past his catching glove before he could react.

That's because few players in the League can get that much velocity and score from that spot on a wrist shot. Justin Williams' goal with 55.1 seconds left came on a rebound of an Ovechkin left point slap shot that banged off the right post and looked almost hard enough to dent it.

"He's just trying to win it himself, for sure, and you feed off that," Capitals left wing Jason Chimera said. "He's our go-to guy, he's been our go-to guy for a lot of years and when he plays like that our team is pretty unstoppable."

The Capitals are going to need more of that from Ovechkin and the rest of the team in Game 4. In many ways, Game 3 was their best of the series.

Video: WSH@PIT, Gm3: Williams scores after Ovi hits post

With Ovechkin leading the way, they Capitals dictated the style of play more than the Penguins for the first time in the series. They worked the puck for sustained shifts in the offensive zone to generate scoring chances and keep the Penguins on their heels. They outshot the Penguins, 49-23, the shot attempts were 85-36, and they outhit Pittsburgh 58-25.

Sometimes the team that has the puck more gets hit more, but that was not the case Monday. The Capitals dumped the puck into the Penguins end, hit their defensemen and got the puck back. Sometimes, they got the puck back without needing to hit the Penguins defensemen.

"I know I had to the dump the puck in a couple times and I got the puck first," Chimera said. "They didn't want to go in and get it. It's just one of those things that you create those [situations] and you set up the game every game. We need to do that again. We need to be physical, but smart physical and create some chances off of that."

The Capitals' downfall Monday was that they made a few mistakes in the first two periods and the opportunistic Penguins turned three of them into goals. The Capitals feel good overall about the way they played going into Game 4.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm1: Murray uses pad to deny Ovechkin early

"I think we're trending in the right direction right now," right wing T.J. Oshie said. "You'd think momentum will be on their side with them going up in the series, but I feel like our game last game was really picking up and we have some momentum going into the next one."

The Capitals expected this to be a six or seven-game series and believe if they keep playing like they did in Game 3, they will eventually prevail. That's why Trotz said, "There's zero frustration in our room."

"We've got a plan we've got in place," Trotz said. "We've just got to continue to execute and continue to play our game. … Going into this, we expected it to go long. We're OK with that. We're built for that."

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