Jakub Vrana scored the go-ahead goal with 4:38 remaining, Braden Holtby made 35 saves and the Washington Capitals beat the Pittsburgh Penguins 6-3 in Game 5 Saturday night to take a 3-2 lead in the second-round series and put the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions on the brink of elimination.
Vrana made coach Barry Trotz look like a genius for moving him to the top line alongside Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov, replacing Devante Smith-Pelly in the second period. Vrana sprung Kuznetsov for a breakaway on Washington’s tying goal 52 seconds into the third and finished off Ovechkin’s pass for the game-winner.
The Capitals are one victory from advancing to the Eastern Conference final for the first time in the Ovechkin era and overall since 1998, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final. They can move on to face the winner of the Tampa Bay-Boston series if they win Game 6 Monday in Pittsburgh.
They’re up on the Penguins on the strength of Ovechkin’s offense and the goaltending of Holtby, who kept them in the game for long stretches when the Penguins were pressing.
Winnipeg 6, at Nashville 2: Kyle Connor scored two goals and had an assist as the Winnipeg Jets beat the Nashville Predators 6-2 on Saturday night, pushing the Presidents’ Trophy winners to the brink of elimination with a 3-2 lead in their Western Conference semifinal.
Now the Jets, who just won their first playoff series in the first round, will have a chance to clinch a spot in their first Western Conference final Monday night in Game 6 back in Winnipeg.
Connor Hellebuyck made 38 saves for the Jets.
Dustin Byfuglien and Mark Scheifele each had a goal and an assist, and Paul Stastny and Mathieu Perrault also scored as the Jets got four goals on 14 shots in the second period. Blake Wheeler also had three assists, and Nikolaj Ehlers added two.
Yannick Weber and Ryan Johansen each scored for Nashville. The Predators have not won consecutive games since taking a 2-0 lead over Colorado to start the playoffs.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville’s Vezina Trophy finalist, was pulled for the third time this postseason after giving up six goals on 26 shots.