Andre Burakovsky scored twice, Nicklas Backstrom got his sixth of the playoffs and the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 5-2 on Monday night to force a Game 7 in their taut Eastern Conference semifinal.
John Carlson and T.J. Oshie also scored for the Capitals. Braden Holtby stopped 16 to send the series back to Washington for the deciding game on Wednesday night.
Jake Guentzel picked up his playoff-leading ninth goal and Evgeni Malkin added another 52 seconds later late in the third period to make the score look cosmetically better, but the Penguins were never in it. The Capitals controlled play throughout. Marc-Andre Fleury finished with 21 saves and received little help in front him.
This is the fourth time the Penguins and Capitals will meet in a Game 7. Pittsburgh has won each of the three previous deciding games, the last in 2009 in Washington on its way to the Stanley Cup.
The Capitals appeared on the verge of another unceremonious exit at the hands of the Penguins going into the third period of Game 5. The Presidents’ Trophy winners responded with a three-goal barrage over the final 20 minutes that extended their season.
The momentum carried over two days later and 250 miles northwest. Washington systematically dismantled the defending Stanley Cup champions, who looked listless as they struggled to generate any kind of sustained pressure.
Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan tinkered with his lines after Game 5, reuniting the “HBK” line (Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel) that played an instrumental part in the team’s Cup run last spring. Sullivan also moved rookie Guentzel alongside Malkin and put Conor Sheary with Crosby.
Crosby was a nonfactor for a second straight game after sitting out Game 4 with a concussion. He took a nasty spill in the first period when he was slammed into the end boards head-first while he tangled with Carlson. He remained in the game but found little room to work.
Then again, neither did any of his teammates as Washington dominated on both ends of the ice. Pittsburgh’s first shot in the opening 17 minutes was a 136-foot flip by Brian Dumoulin that made its way to Holtby. By then the Capitals already had a 1-0 lead on Oshie’s shot from the right circle on the power play.
It wasn’t unlike most of the first four games of the series, when Washington would control play for long stretches only to have Pittsburgh expertly counterpunch on its way to a 3-1 series lead.
This time, there would be no response by the Penguins. Pittsburgh had trouble executing even the simplest of plays. Defenseman Ron Hainsey went to boards to retrieve a loose puck in the Penguins end only to get checked by Burakovsky, who skated away with the puck and stuffed a shot past Fleury 6:36 into the second.
Holding two-goal leads in the postseason has been a tenuous proposition at best, with 13 times teams letting them away so far in the postseason.
Yet instead of simply trying to protect its advantage, Washington kept pressing. Backstrom flipped a wrist shot by Fleury 16 seconds into the third to make it 3-0 and when Carlson fired on past Fleury 11:17 into the third, the arena began emptying out, perhaps for the last time this season.