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Pens escape Verizon Center, steal home ice advantage.

A captain and his goalie. NHL.com

The Pittsburgh Penguins took Game One from the Washington Capitals on Thursday night 3-2.  The Pens managed to survive the last 30 mins of the game while under siege for most of that time period.

Nick Bonino picked up where he left off in last Spring’s Game Six……scoring a big goal to take the wind out of the President’s Trophy winners.  With 7:24 to go, he beat Braden Holtby under the blocker arm to allow the Penguins to retake the lead that had fumbled away earlier in the period.

If you still doubt Marc Andre Fleury, get out…..stop reading…..go watch the Pirates, or the NFL Draft.  There’s like 1,000 hours of coverage left on it, and when it’s done, whatever man power is left at ESPN will talk about it for the next thirty days.

Fleury made 33 of 35 saves, including 15 out of 16 in the last 20 minutes. Pittsburgh basically survived the third period in much the same manner as Game 7 of the Finals back in Detroit back in ’09.   The Penguins had a chance to really ice the game away just seconds after re-taking the lead.  They, however could not capitalize on the man advantage when Matt Niskanen went off for a slash.  After that kill by the Caps, you knew you would have to hold on for dear life in the game’s last 2:30.

Now playing with house money and having earned at least a split in the Nation’s capital, the Pens can go for an early series choke hold Saturday night at 8 PM.

The first period was the best opening stanza by the black and gold clad club in the entire post-season so far.  Pinning the Caps in the defensive zone for most of the first 15 minutes of it.  While the shots for and against were only 4-1 Pittsburgh, it was clear the Penguins learned a little from the Columbus series.

It also helped that the Caps appeared to be asleep for most of that time period as well.  Patrick Hornqvist had the two best chances of the period, and Pittsburgh also failed on an early power play with Alex Ovechkin in the box.

In the last-minute or so, Marc Andre Fleury was bailed out by Jake Guentzel at the side of the net with a kick save and then some tense moments for the rookie.

The shots finished 6-4 Caps and the feeling process of the game was about to end dramatically.

Twelve seconds into the second period, Sidney Crosby put the Penguins up as he and Guentzel executed a high two on one, much the same way they did in Game 1 of the Columbus series, only this time it was Sid getting the goal and the Verizon Center was not rocking.

:52 seconds later, it was down-right silent.

The Red was Rocked. NHL.com

Crosby struck again after Olli Maatta (who, like MAF, is having a major redemption tour so far this Spring) put a low shot on Holtby.  The rebound was not controlled well by Patric Hornqvist, but enough that he shuffled it over to a hard charging Sid.  Crosby would angle his stick and beat the prone Caps net-minder again.

Props to the coaching staff for the Hornqvist on the top line move.  He was around the cage all night.  Created numerous chances and finished with 2 assists.

Meanwhile Conor Sheary on the third line had a game he would like to forget.  The third line did not generate even a SHOT until late in the second period.  Before that, they had been on the ice for 13 shots against.  The HBK line it is most-certainly not.

But the Penguins were up 2-0 and seemed to be perfectly in control.

Then the Caps woke up.

After Tom Kuhnhackl was plastered over by the benches, Evgeni Malkin carried the puck into the Caps zone and was hammered on a great check by John Carlson.  Quickly the puck turned the other way and TJ Oshie found Lars Eller, who found Alex Ovechkin.

2-1.  What a snipe.  Getty Images.

The Penguins survived the last minute and a half with the lead and got to the locker room.  But you knew period three would be an all out blitz by the team in red.

Starting right around the time of the Ovechkin goal, maybe shortly before that, the Caps started absolutely shutting down the Pens breakout.  The jumped the Pens wingers on the half wall and started forcing all of the bad passes and plays you could imagine.  It was very reminiscent of the CBJ series.  It was the primary reason the Caps owned the last half of the game.

loose pucks bouncing in the neutral zone, stick on puck at every turn.  You had the feeling that if the Caps tied it, that they may end up taking the game because of how poorly the Penguins were playing.

Next thing you know, in the third period.  Conor Sheary loses his man, Matt Niskanen make a tremendous cross ice feed and Evgeny Kuznetsov buries a one timer to the left of Fleury for the tying goal.  If you get a chance to see the goal again, watch Sheary’s reaction.  He snaps his head back in realization that it was his man who was left open.

Sheary is playing with no confidence right now.  He is a good player as we have seen from last year and this year, but something seems amiss mentally.  It feels like he is pressing too much defensively and it is leading to mistake after mistake.  The Penguins need him to snap out of it and soon.

By the way….bottom right corner of this picture….

Top 10 signs you really stopped giving a damn after retirement. NHL.com

Yes, David Letterman is a Caps fan.

So with all of the momentum going against them and the feeling that a third and maybe fourth Caps goal was in the offing, something happened.

The Penguins changed their breakout ONE TIME, and it hit a home run.  Ian Cole took a pass at the far corner of his own zone, and instead of the Pens winger being down low for the breakout, Scott Wilson was all the way at the Caps side of the Neutral zone and received a long stretch pass for his troubles.  A quick tap over to Nicky Bones and…..

Caps killer. -Getty Images

Just a perfect change in attack at the perfect time and executed to a ‘T’.  The Penguins were back in the lead.  Thanks to Niskanen taking the previously mentioned penalty, it seemed like the perfect time to put the game away.

That didn’t happen, and the last two minutes or so may have been peak-Marc Andre Fleury.

He scrambled, he dove, he flopped, he rolled and he kept out every chance the Caps threw at him.  Whether it was Ovi, Niskanen, Oshie, Backstrom, or Kuznetsov, it mattered none.  Fleury slammed the door and the Penguins escaped with their butts AND game one.

So many clinched butts in this sequence. NHL.com

So the Penguins who have yet to play a complete game (not even close), are now up 1-0 in the series and are 5-1 in the postseason.  With a junk third line and no ability to consistently break the puck out of their own zone….they keep winning.  Champions do that, but it needs to be fixed.  The Caps are too good to get away with any more games like that.

Another issue?  The Pens were not whistled for a penalty all night, and there were several instances where they got away with infractions.  Here’s betting that changes in Game Two.

Enjoy it for now and take a deep breath, Saturday night will find a Caps team loaded for bear.

Thanks for reading!!

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Pens escape Verizon Center, steal home ice advantage.

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