PITTSBURGH — Jake Guentzel scored twice to push his playoff total to a league-leading 10, Matt Murray stopped 20 shots and the Pittsburgh Penguins beat the Washington Capitals 3-1 in Game 4 to even their tense Eastern Conference semifinal on Thursday night.
Evgeni Malkin added his fourth goal of the playoffs for Pittsburgh as the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions pushed back following a chaotic Game 3 that included an illegal hit by Washington forward Tom Wilson that led to a three-game suspension.
T.J. Oshie scored for the Capitals, but Washington struggled to find much operating room. Alex Ovechkin failed to register a shot on goal for just the third time in 107 career playoff games. Braden Holtby finished with 21 saves but couldn’t quite get a handle on Malkin’s belly-flop shot attempt late in the second period that put Pittsburgh in front to stay.
Game 5 is Saturday night in Washington.
The Capitals grabbed brief control of the series amid all of the Wilson-led Game 3 chippiness when Ovechkin baseball-batted home the winning goal with 1:07 to play. True playoff momentum for Washington, however, has been problematic for decades. The franchise is 6-11 in series in which it led 2-1 after three games, the worst mark in NHL history.
Given a chance to push Pittsburgh to the brink of elimination, Washington instead struggled to generate much pressure outside of the power play. Devante Smith-Pelly replaced Wilson on the top line with Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, but Pittsburgh kept the clamps on, and Murray, who admitted he was “shaky” in Game 3, looked far steadier this time around.
Wilson’s absence brought a sense of normalcy. The vitriol calmed a bit, replaced by the taut intensity that’s come to define one of the NHL’s marquee rivalries.
Guentzel gave the Penguins the lead 9:21 into the second period when he stood on the doorstep and banged home a rebound of Dominik Simon’s shot for his ninth of the playoffs and his 20th point of the post-season. Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier in 1988 are the last two players to reach 20 points in 10 or fewer post-season games.
The 23-year-old, however, is still learning. He committed a slashing penalty after putting the Penguins in front, and Oshie’s shot from the slot 12:55 into the second tied it.
Malkin went to his belly to put Pittsburgh back in front with 2:33 to go in the second. The Russian star flung himself at the puck during a scrum in the crease, the puck just flitting over the goal line following a scramble. There was no initial goal call on the play, reminiscent of a sequence in Game 2 in which the red goal light remained unlit after Pittsburgh’s Patric Hornqvist jabbed at it from in front.
Replays in Game 2 proved inconclusive and the Capitals held on. This time, the review was kinder to the Penguins. Video clearly showed the puck inching across the line, and it stood after the Capitals challenged due to goalie interference.
Unlike Game 3, in which the Penguins let a one-goal lead get away over the final 20 minutes, Guentzel added an empty-netter with 58 seconds remaining to assure the series will go at least six games. Hardly new territory for either club. Nine of their 11 playoff meetings have gone at least six games.
NOTES: Pittsburgh F Carl Hagelin played 16:11 while wearing a full face shield in his return from an upper-body injury that forced him to miss the first three games of the series. … The Capitals have scored a playoff goal in nine of 10 playoff games. … The loss was Washington’s first on the road in the playoffs (4-1). … The Capitals were 1 for 3 on the power play. The Penguins were 2 for 4.