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Capitals vs. Penguins Recap: Feisty Affair Finishes in Caps' Favor with 3-1 Win

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The Caps leave Pittsburgh with the only souvenir you'd ever want - a two-point victory.

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

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On the scoreboard, the Caps have dominated the Penguins so far this season - but anyone who's watched the games knows that for most of the time, they've been a lot closer than the combined 7-0 score would suggest. So you knew that with the Caps having taken the first two, and the Penguins playing better of late, this would be a spirited, evenly-played affair.

It didn't disappoint, with the two teams separated by no more than one goal at any point in tonight's game....and plenty of extracurricular activity to keep the blood pumping.

First, Tuesday night's Plus/Minus:

  • Plus: Team defense. The Caps were solid in their own zone for most of tonight's game, bolstered by the continued strong play of Braden Holtby and helping to shut down the Pens' top guns of Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. They caused turnovers, took away space and made the hometown crowd very unhappy en route to a tight victory.
  • Minus: The officiating. It certainly wasn't one-sided (as it maybe has been in the past), but the referees were directly responsible for this one going from a chippy, hard-nosed affair to a chaotic one.

Ten more notes on the game:

  • Ferocious start for the Pens, as was to be expected - after being shut out in each of their last two meetings with the Caps, and with the Caps returning from a wearing West Coast swing, you knew the Penguins would want to set the mood early. They did just that, getting a good chance on Holtby just 17 seconds in - but the Caps settled in nicely, and relatively quickly, to play their game.
  • Alex Ovechkin has just been ridiculous lately (and always, really), and he reminded everyone of that fact again tonight. The play started with the puck jumping over the stick of Mike Green on the power play, but he was able to stay with it and bump it to the middle of the ice and a waiting Joel Ward, who then moved it to Ovechkin - just as all four Penguins decided to exit the ice at the same time. Oops. Now, Ovechkin is dangerous enough when he has guys hanging all over him; give him open ice, and forget it. That thing’s in. Even if it took a couple of camera angles and a quick video review to confirm what Ovechkin himself already knew.
  • If you thought the momentum from a strong finish to the first period would carry over to the start of the second, well… you clearly haven’t watched any Caps games this year. The Pens, as expected, came out of the gate flying in the middle frame and got rewarded early on, when some net-front traffic - and truly pathetic defense by everyone in white - led to the tying goal by Steve Downie. Because everyone totally expected Holtby’s lengthy shutout streak against the Pens to be ended by that guy, right?
  • Yes, that was the first goal scored by the Penguins this year, snapping a streak of 132:03 by Holtby... and yes, you can blame a certain someone for jinxing it. Do it.
  • Speaking of Holtby, he did an excellent job of holding it together and performing spectacularly despite being run into by Penguins from the start of the game to the nail-biting finish. It was clear from the outset what the Pens' game plan was, and that was to get into the head of Holtby - but they forgot that Holtby is unflappable. He cannot be flapped. And his 32 saves on 33 shots speak volumes.
  • So the Caps ended the first with a goal. The Pens started the second with one. How would the third start? With mass chaos, that’s how. It all started with Ovechkin taking a swing at a puck (we think) and instead catching the back of Kris Letang’s leg with what ended up being a pretty vicious slash… that wasn’t called. Call that, and the lid stays on this thing; don’t call it, and everyone in black and gold feels the need to enact vigilante justice. And since the Pens have plenty of guys who like to do that, and the Caps aren’t exactly pushovers, things escalated over the period’s first five minutes, only getting (relatively) calm after the refs handed out a couple of ten-minute misconducts.
  • No one can say those refs don’t have a sense of humor, though. Because late in the third period, with the game tied at one, the Pens were whistled for a penalty. Less than a minute later, they were whistled for another one…. a slash by Letang. That’s just mean.
  • Mean, and fortunate for the Caps, who cashed in almost immediately on the ensuing five-on-three. Nice job by Joel Ward, who drew the first of the two penalties, to camp out next to the net and tap in yet another gorgeous Nicklas Backstrom pass for the eventual game-winner.
  • But nothing comes that easy, so before it went in the books as the game-winner, the Caps had to actually win the game - and to do that, they needed to kill off a goaltender-interference penalty taken by Brooks Laich with a little over two minutes to go in regulation. At that point it was hard to tell which was funnier, Letang getting nabbed for a slashing penalty or the Caps getting whistled for goaltender interference (twice). No harm, no foul, no oxygen left in the lungs until John Carlson put the icing on the cake with the shorthanded empty-netter.
  • How ridiculously even was this game? Shots: 33 apiece. Faceoffs: 26 won, 26 lost. Power plays: three apiece. 1-1 up until the final five minutes. Enough to make your heart pound in your throat from start to finish, but all in all an even, exciting, and entertaining game... even with all of the nonsense in the third period.

After a long three-game swing through California, the Caps did a phenomenal job of shutting down the Penguins, frustrating them, and then not letting themselves get pulled into the overly-emotional, chippy game the Pens wanted to play in the third. As a result, they were able to make the Pens pay, not with fists, but by cashing in on a power play and winning the game. Because that's what matters the most.

Reminder, these two teams meet again next Wednesday; should be a fun one.

And now, this...

Game highlights: