Kudos to the Pittsburgh Penguins for winning a big road game as they battle for a playoff spot, but from the perspective of those cheering on the red, white and blue, this game was about a Caps team that may very well have turned the corner on their recent doldrums as they head down the season's home stretch.
Entering the third period yesterday, the Penguins had a 3-1 lead and looked to be en route to sending the Caps to a fourth consecutive regulation home loss, which would have been the fifth defeat in six games at the Verizon Center. After all, the Penguins were 18-3-4 on the season when leading after two periods and 54-4-7 in that situation over the past two seasons. The Caps, for their part, had won just four times since the beginning of last season when behind heading into the third period (4-40-2). And the Penguins needed yesterday's two points. Bad.
And yet 1:18 into the third, the game was tied, and it would stay tied until Sidney Crosby beat Jose Theodore in the shootout and the Caps failed to get one past Marc-Andre Fleury. To be sure, the extra point - and perhaps more importantly depriving Pittsburgh of it - would have been nice, but in a game that had all the makings of either "rock bottom" or "the turning point," I think it's safe to say that Sunday's effort (key word) much more closely resembled the latter.
Some thoughts on the game:
- No Capital had more even strength ice time against the League's leading scorer than Jeff Schultz, who held said scorer pointless for the first time in eleven games and for only the fourth time since January 8. Sarge's 20:01 of even strength ice time was second on the team and he even threw in three hits for the haters.
- A week ago, I had a pretty strong feeling that Bill Guerin would be playing this game, but I had envisioned him in red. Too bad it didn't work out - he can still get it done.
- We've been waiting for Brooks Laich to step up when the team needed him, and he did just that on Sunday. Within a span of 49 seconds at the start of the third, he provided sufficient traffic in front of Fleury to give Alex Ovechkin a better shot at scoring the Caps' second goal, and then beat Fleury on a pretty breakaway move to tie the game.
- Alexander Semin is so very special. His goal was scintillating, but perhaps even more impressive were his six takeaways (the same number John Erskine has on the season), many of which were the result of aggressive - but legal - backchecks. He seems to be leading the way in the shift to playoff mode, as he's on a six-game goal streak and has 13 points in his last eight games (and just two minor penalties in his last six).
- The defensive effort overall - limiting the Pens to just 18 even strength shots and 22 overall - was outstanding, especially as compared to the 32+ shots against per game they'd averaged over the past four games.
- That Nicklas Backstrom ever wins a draw is a testament to how great his hand-eye coordination is, because he's still taking most of his faceoffs damn-near standing up. And yet, he won 52% of them on Sunday and is 32-for-54 (59%) over his last three games. Oh, and his forecheck and assist on the Semin goal was fabulous.
- AO was not sharp, flubbing a few one-timers and losing the puck more often than we're used to seeing, but he did score his 22nd third period goal of the season, which is more than all but 56 NHLers have total.
- Milan Jurcina was a beast, registering four hits including putting Tyler Kennedy through the glass in the first period. He and Erskine combined for eight hits in just 27:19 of ice time, and neither was on the ice for a goal against.
- JT had Evgeni Malkin's number on Sunday, robbing Geno a couple of times.
- Shaone Morrisonn's crosscheck to Pascal Dupuis' kidneys as the latter was on top of the crease was a nice touch.
- Tom Poti's ill-timed step-up that led to the Guerin-Crosby two-on-one in the first wasn't the kind of play you'd like to see from a guy with his experience - there was little upside potential and quite obviously significant risk to it.
- David Steckel's outlet pass on the Laich breakaway goal deserves mention, so there it is.
- Good on the Pens fans who celebrated the shootout win that prevented the Caps from taking all eight points against their team this season by dancing and signing on the steps of the National Portrait Gallery - perhaps some culture rubbed off on them.
And so ends the (regular) season series between these two bitter rivals, with the Caps taking three of the four meetings. One can't help but think that these teams might not be done yet this season, though, and besides being the NHL's dream match up, the hockey itself would not doubt be epic.
But for now, the Caps turn their sites towards a desperate Nashville Predators team, who they'll face on Tuesday in their last game against the Western Conference (and outside the Eastern time zone) this season, with about as much confidence as a team can take away from an 0-3-1 homestand, thanks to an unlikely third period and stolen point.