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Penguins, Capitals live up to hype in Game 1

Pittsburgh and Washington match high expectations in first playoff meeting since 2009

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

WASHINGTON -- This series, this matchup, the rivalry, with the speed, intensity, hitting, star power and, for now, the red-rocking blaring crowd, just wow.

With Game 1 as the new barometer, this Eastern Conference Second Round series between the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins actually might match the hype. That's saying something considering the hype machine was in overdrive these past few days with the Penguins and Capitals, with Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, getting set to meet in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in seven years.

The Capitals beat the Penguins 4-3 in overtime in a classic Game 1 that portends an epic series ahead, with the potential for six more games like the one we were treated to at Verizon Center on Thursday.

Imagine that.

"Yeah, I think so," Capitals coach Barry Trotz said when asked if what he saw in Game 1 matched his expectations for the series. "It went into overtime. You saw the skill level on both sides. You saw the resiliency on both sides. You saw lots of star power. You saw some great saves. You saw special teams that were pretty strong.

"I think it's going to build more and more as we go along."

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm1: Oshie tallies hat trick, gets OT winner

Hope so.

But Game 2 has a lot to live up to because Game 1 had a little bit of everything, including a hat trick by Capitals left wing T.J. Oshie, whose winner 9:33 into overtime wasn't official until a lengthy review confirmed that the puck crossed the goal line just far enough to see white ice behind it.

The hats that rained down from nearly everywhere in the arena were almost all shoveled off the ice by the time the officials confirmed their call on the ice. Trotz said he was confident, "but you don't know until they make the call on the ice so we just hung around like everybody else."

Penguins goalie Matt Murray didn't think it should have initially been called a goal on the ice. He thought he had sealed the puck on the left post.

"I did, to be honest," Murray said. "The ref called it a goal on the ice, I don't know how he could have possibly seen it from his angle."

Game 1 had three goals in 90 seconds in the second period, including two in 57 seconds by the Penguins that put them up 2-1. It had Evgeni Malkin's phenomenal backhand shot, short side and bar down, that gave Pittsburgh a short-lived 2-1 lead.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm 1: Malkin goes top-shelf with backhand

Oshie scored his first 33 seconds later, racing down the right side on a breakaway after a turnover at the far blue line by Penguins defenseman Olli Maatta, who has had better nights.

"Huge goal," Trotz said. "We needed a quick response. That's what our team does. There isn't any panic on our bench. There is no nervousness or anything like that. We just said, 'Hey, we gotta get this turned around, let's go.' I thought that was a huge goal for us."

Game 1 had Capitals forward Jay Beagle getting sticks caught in his visor and in his skate, a combination that maybe has never been seen before by one player in one game. There's probably no way to fact check that, though; the Elias Sports Bureau doesn't keep such records.

"That was sort of like a Halloween costume," Trotz said of Beagle's look, with Penguins defenseman Kris Letang's stick stuck in his visor in the second period. "I was waiting for him to get through the [bench] door, the stick get caught and him go flying down."

Beagle at least thought it should have been a high stick on Letang.

"I said to the ref, 'I've got the evidence right here,' " he said, laughing.

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm1: Stick gets wedged in Beagle's visor

Game 1 had signs of growth from Murray, even if he struggled at times.

Oshie's second goal, a five-hole shot off an assist by Ovechkin that gave the Capitals a 3-2 lead at 3:23 of the third period, wasn't a pretty one.

"That's not a good goal on my part," Murray said.

But he redeemed himself later when, with the game tied at 3-3, he stopped Ovechkin on a breakaway with 3:26 left in regulation.

Murray finished with 31 saves. He said he had a blast, even though he lost.

"It was fun, to be honest," Murray said. "I'm trying to enjoy every minute of this ride. Win or lose, I think I have that same feeling. I had a ton of fun out there."

Video: PIT@WSH, Gm1: Oshie nets his second goal for the lead

There was more, like Capitals forward Tom Wilson throwing his body around, even if a bit recklessly. Like the Penguins hitting the post twice and the Capitals once, on a Matt Niskanen shot at 12:05 of the third period that got through Murray, tang off the post and sat untouched in the crease until Pittsburgh cleared it out.

Game 1 had scrums in front of the net, Letang pretending to flex his muscles while gesturing to the Capitals' bench, Wilson trying to goad Eric Fehr after a big hit and knocking down an embellishing Malkin after a tussle along the wall.

It even had Penguins forward Chris Kunitz getting hit in the back of the head by a puck in overtime. He was sitting on the bench.

The only thing Game 1 didn't have was an epic battle between Crosby and Ovechkin. But maybe that's coming in Game 2, like it did seven years ago, when these teams last met in a playoff series and the two biggest stars in the series had dueling hat tricks.

Crosby and Ovechkin were more along for the ride than driving the train on Thursday, but it didn't take anything away from an instant classic and the start of what should be an epic series.

"This is what the playoffs are all about," Oshie said.

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