A home-and-home series during the regular season is something special because of the playoff-like atmosphere it creates. So to sweep a hated rival in those back-to-back games feels pretty darn good.
After beating Washington 3-2 on Monday at Verizon Center, the Penguins blanked the Capitals 2-0 on Tuesday at CONSOL Energy Center. It was Pittsburgh's eighth straight win against Washington, a new franchise record.
Marc-Andre Fleury made a total of 32 saves in the win to get his fifth shutout of the season. After the Penguins dominated the first half of the game, Fleury was the difference during the final 30 minutes of play. The desperate Capitals, battling to make the postseason, had 20 shots in the third period as they pushed hard to get one in the back of the net and make it a completely different game. They had the Pens trapped in their own end and created a ton of chances, even getting a big opportunity on the power play with under five minutes left in regulation. But the Caps just couldn't find a way to beat Fleury, who was excellent in preserving Pittsburgh's lead through all of the commotion around his net.
“Every time we play them it's pretty intense,” Fleury said. “It's always a close, hard-fought game. Definitely nice to get the W tonight.”
Fleury’s most spectacular save of the game came in the second period. He got behind Connor Carrick’s shot from the point, which rebounded right to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the side of the net. With Fleury sprawled flat on his stomach after making the initial stop, Kuznetsov appeared to have all the time in the world to put the puck into the open cage. But Fleury was down but not out – kicking his leg up scorpion-style and somehow managing to block Kuznetsov’s shot with his skate blade.
“The rebound came on the wrong side and I knew I was in trouble,” Fleury said. “(Kuznetsov) had some time. I knew it. I tried to get my leg up because I assumed he would shoot high. Got the blade of my skate. A little bit lucky there.”
In the first period, Chris Kunitz and Sidney Crosby found themselves on a 2-on-1 rush against Carrick. And Crosby, carrying the puck down the right side of the ice, tried to slide a pass under the defenseman’s stick over to Kunitz, but watched it get poked away by a backchecking forward.
In the third period, Kunitz and Crosby ended up in what the captain called an “identical” situation – another 2-on-1 opportunity against Carrick, with Kunitz on the left and Crosby with the puck on the right.
This time, Crosby opted to shoot. And he didn’t miss.
Crosby stared across the ice at Kunitz for as long as possible trying to lure the defenseman into thinking he was going to try that again, turning his head at the last possible second to pick his spot and rip a shot far side past Caps goalie Jaroslav Halak.
“I just tried to look to pass as long as I could just to see if he'd bite,” Crosby explained. “Just tried to hold him there. So it was good. Very, very similar play to the first. Was happy I shot this one.”
After discussing the first play with Kunitz on the bench, Crosby said there really wasn’t any question in his mind that he was going to take the shot himself if that happened again. It did, and he did.
“I knew it was the same defenseman and literally the same angle,” Crosby said. "I think he played 'Kuni' pretty hard on the first one and I still tried the pass. So wasn't going to pass up the shot this time. So yeah, if he gave me that again, I pretty much had it in my mind I was going to shoot.”
STEMPNIAK STANDS OUT
Lee Stempniak just keeps getting better with every game he plays in a Penguins uniform.
The recently acquired winger made a number of excellent plays in Tuesday’s game, one of the more memorable ones being his highlight-reel effort he produced in the second period that nearly resulted in a gorgeous goal.
It started when Stempniak picked up the puck in his own end and used his speed to power past Caps defenseman Dmitry Orlov into the offensive zone, where he found himself in another 1-on-1 situation, this time with Carrick. After working to settle the bouncing puck, Stempniak dragged it under Carrick’s stick to get himself alone on Halak – who robbed him of consummating the sequence. And while he got another big scoring chance a few seconds later, Stempniak was robbed again, this time by the red painted metal. He perfectly tipped a Brooks Orpik shot across his body that hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced out.
“I was trying to wait for it to come down a little bit more,” Stempniak said. “I got a little too excited and put it off the crossbar.”
Stempniak didn’t get on the scoresheet that shift, but did in the third period on Crosby’s goal. He won a puck battle along the wall with his mark, the Caps defenseman, chipped it up to Crosby and sent him and Kunitz on that 2-on-1.
“The puck was on the wall and their guy tried to keep it in,” Stempniak said. “I just tried to get it through him and make sure the puck got out. By the time I looked up, ‘Sid’ was at the far blue line on a 2-on-1 and made a great shot.”
These teams took the definition of ‘flow’ to a whole new level on Tuesday.
After the opening faceoff, the refs stopped play 39 seconds in for an offsides call. The next whistle didn’t come until 5:36 was left on the clock, meaning the clubs played 13 minutes and 45 seconds of uninterrupted hockey.
After the Capitals controlled play for the first few minutes, it was all Pens from there. And the pace was so high and exciting to watch that fans actually booed Halak for freezing a wrister to send the game to its first commercial break.
Author: Michelle Crechiolo