NHL Playoffs: Defending Champion Penguins Pushed to Brink of Elimination

NHL Playoffs: Defending Champion Penguins Pushed to Brink of Elimination

Two of the scores were empty-netters, yes, but the defending champions have now squandered two third-period leads in the span of four games.

For the Capitals and their fans, there would be nothing sweeter than to finally get past the Penguins in the post-season, and to do it with a game to spare in the series.

Especially when overtime is involved.

Capitals forward Evgeny Kuznetsov was flapping his wings after he scored the Game 6 overtime victor to eliminate the Penguins and lift Washington to the Eastern Conference final for just the third time in franchise history and first since 1998. They took advantage in game six winning 6-3. This is one of those situations again, and the Penguins still have a championship-caliber squad led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jake Guentzel. Everyone did what they could.

The Caps have been notorious for being unable to get over the proverbial playoff hump.

Matt Murray (25.8 saves per game) has been the primary selection in goal for Pittsburgh.

"We're going to have to play much better", Capitals head coach Barry Trotz says. They may have to do it without star center Nicklas Backstrom, who left in the third period with an upper-body injury that Trotz said the team will have more information on Sunday. I didn't see them give in before. They have taken out the Caps in each of their last two years and have parlayed that into winning back-to-back titles, but this year it has a different feel to it. Patric Hörnqvist, Brian Dumoulin and Olli Määttä couldn't convert from the scoring area in the third, with the last two of those especially gutting to the Penguins. "Not any one single person can replace him; it takes a group effort and we knew that". They capitalized on the chances they got.

For the Capitals, and for D.C. sports fans, this isn't just a regular second round win, but the lifting of a regional curse. Vrana looked as though he was right at home with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. We'll enjoy it tonight.

Trotz says he expects Backstrom to play in Game 6, and adds, "we'll see where is [Monday]". They did that all series long. Ovechkin has 101 points via 57 goals and 44 assists, and has recorded multiple points 30 times.

The Capitals captain feathered a backhand pass up the middle of the ice to spring Kuznetsov for a breakaway he finished with a shot between Murray's pads.

"Obviously Holts right now playing unbelievable", Ovechkin said.

The bigger problem for the Penguins was a failure to create offense against a Capitals team dead set on clogging up the middle of the ice. Letang ripped a low slap shot past Holtby from near the blue line.

With Backstrom unable to play the final 13 minutes, Lars Eller double-shifted and Vrana looked like a ideal fit with Ovechkin and Kuznetsov. If they were running out of gas after all the high-level hockey they've played, we could certainly accept it and move on to 2018-19.



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