|That's Tom "Randy Marsh" Wilson on the right|
Washington had won the three previous games in convincing fashion, with Braden Holtby recording two shutouts.
The game featured the NHL's leader in goals scored (Alexander Ovechkin, with 38) and three of the top five leaders in points (Niklas Backstrom, tied for the league lead with 64, and Sidney Crosby and Ovechkin tied for fifth with 61).
Scratches for the Penguins included Robert Bortuzzo and the newly acquired Daniel Winnik (from Toronto), while Jay Beagle and Jack Hillen were scratched for the Capitals.
First Period Action:
The action actually started before the drop of the puck, as Washington Capitals resident "Bro" and Delta Iota Kappa fraternity member Tom Wilson came across the center red line to "shove" Evgeni Malkin during the pregame skate.
Nothing came of the incident, but its very nature elevated the tension in the building.
Chris Kunitz nearly put the Penguins up early when Niklas Backstrom made a careless giveaway at his own blue line. Malkin got the puck up to Blake Comeau, whose saucer pass found Kunitz alone. Kunitz feigned a wrist shot, but Capitals' goalie Braden Holtby refused to commit and made a nice save on the Penguin winger's backhander from in tight.
David Perron then fired a wrister into the breadbasket of Holtby following a Hornqvist cross-ice feed.
Perron and Kunitz's early scoring chances were in stark contrast to the type of close-to-the-vest games that Washington head coach Barry Trotz had masterminded in the previous three games against the Penguins. At least early on, Pittsburgh was successful in entering the offensive zone with both numbers and space to develop offensive scoring chances.
This would hold true minutes later when Patric Hornqvist snapped a wrister past Braden Holtby to give Pittsburgh the 1-0 lead. Malkin's speed through the neutral zone came off of a give-and-go with David Perron, and with #71 flying down the middle of the ice, the Capitals were forced to back off.
Hornqvist then did a small curl and drag and took Holtby off of his line, thus enabling a relatively harmless wrist shot to elude him.
The aforementioned Tom Wilson decided that he hadn't made a big enough fool of himself in the pregame, so he created a scrum in front of the Penguins' bench, only to be deposited head-over-heels INTO the Penguins bench and the Gong Show™ was on.
Hey Tom, I suppose the Pens did NOT respect you, Bro.
|Mike "Glass House" Milbury in form|
The resulting skirmish then led to Malkin and Ovechkin rekindling their former Cold War, with the two Russians barking at one another from their respective sides of the ice before puck resumed play (penalties somehow cancelled one another out, so teams continued to skate 5-on-5).
The Penguins made certain things didn't stay that way, as Chris Kunitz and Kris Letang took consecutive penalties to put the always-dangerous Washington power-play on the ice.
Marc-Andre Fleury made a few nice saves (most notably on a Joel Ward baseball swing following two Penguin tips) to help kill the Kunitz minor, a penalty-kill that also survived a hideous Craig Adams turnover in his own end....
...okay Craig, let's get this talk over with. Zach Sill is gone. You don't have to play twice as bad to compensate for him not being on the ice anymore. Let it go.
Speaking of, Sidney Crosby couldn't "Frozen" it (as in, he couldn't let Tom Wilson go), and so with the Penguins' captain off for holding, the Capitals went to work on their third straight man-advantage...
...and then wouldn't you know it, Brandon "Crap, Am I the New Whipping Boy Now That Zach Sill is Gone?" Sutter corralled a bad Washington pass in the neutral zone, and then scored shorthanded via his patented forehand-to-backhand breakaway move to put the Pens up 2-0.
Later, following a tough shot block that hobbled defenseman Rob Scuderi, the Capitals would close to within 1 when John Carlson took advantage of a loose puck high in the slot and fired a slapshot past a surprised Fleury.
And so the period would end with Pittsburgh only up a goal, 2-1, despite thoroughly outplaying the Capitals on the Caps' home ice.
Period Two Action:
The second period was what singing comedian Stephen Lynch would call "A Little Bit Special," as both teams spent the entire 20 minutes either on the power-play or on the PK.
The Penguins were given the first chance, but were unable to do much with Joel Ward off for slashing; however, on the ensuing PP for Brooks Laich's tripping infraction, Sidney Crosby would bury an OFF-stride wrister (sorry Edzo) to make the score 3-1.
During the ensuing faceoff, Washington would take yet another penalty, this time a dangerous hit in the back by Cameron Schilling on Craig Adams. The Pens wouldn't be able to convert on this opportunity OR the next one, as the refs clearly clamped down on fisticuffs and sent Jason Chimera off for an offensive zone holding penalty.
|Pictured: Tom Wilson|
After killing off Martin's penalty, it was once again Sidney Crosby & Company's chance to go on the power-play after Douchnozzle (see: Wilson, Tom) earned two minors for roughing and cross-checking.
The Penguins couldn't score on that power-play (c'mon guys, not this again), but they'd get to try their luck once again when Cameron "Bloody Jock" Schilling took his second minor of the period.
The only two scoring chances during Schilling's penalty came for the Capitals, including a wacky 2-on-0 that saw Marc-Andre Fleury Joel Ward on a breakaway.
Blake Comeau would finish off the period's penalties with a slashing offense behind the play. The Caps would generate some chances as the second ticked off, but would not tally like they did in the first, and the teams skated off for intermission with Pittsburgh ahead in shots, 20-10, and ahead in goals, 3-1.
Third Period Action:
The Capitals opened the third with the remainder of Comeau's penalty time on the clock, but once again Pittsburgh's Ovechkin Denial Defense (henceforth known as ODD) emerged victorious, and Comeau stepped back on the ice with the score still 3-1.
The Caps would make it 3-2 when Troy Brouwer took a neat feed from Jason Chimera and banged home his own rebound.
Brouwer scored with about 16 minutes left in the third, plenty of time for the game to matriculate into madness.
Pittsburgh would respond to the Washington goal with some sustained pressure, but Holtby only faced one (easy) shot, and the score remained 3-2.
Chris Kunitz avenged his early moment denial when he put home a Blake Comeau rebound to make the score 4-2. Kunitz's goal was made easy when two Capitals defenders stayed with the original puck carrier, Malkin, instead of communicating responsibilities.
Later, the Pens were the beneficiaries of a phantom offsides call when Evgeny Kuznetsov was whistled after hauling in a stretch pass from the Washington end.
Pittsburgh seemed to take their foot off of the proverbial accelerator and went into their usual defensive shell, allowing Washington to possess the puck in the neutral zone but clamping down whenever the Capitals tried to cross the blue line.
Doc Emrick slipped in his obligatory Pittsburgh Pirates reference with just about five minutes left to go in the third (DRINK! ...responsibly), and Washington collected yet another offsides call as the Pens continued to stand up the Caps.
Marc-Andre Fleury took exception to Joel Ward kneeing him in the head (and really, who wouldn't?) and chopped at the back of Ward's knees and blasted him in the face, and in doing so put the Capitals back on the GEICO caveman power-play...
...and the Head Caveman himself, Alexander Ovechkin, would immediately convert on a one-timer (...again) to make the score 4-3 Pittsburgh.
Washington would pull Holtby with 2:25 left, and Fleury would once again be forced to fend off an Ovechkin shot from the high left circle.
Following an extended sequence that saw the Penguins eventually ice the puck, head coach Mike Johnston weighed the mutual tired state of both teams and decided to call his time out, giving Alexander Ovechkin and his linemates a breather as well.
The Caps would control possession, with Fleury forced to make a blocker save. Comeau would have a chance with the empty net but would hit the post just before time expired.
The 4-3 win gave Fleury one more win than his goaltending counterpart Holtby, and kept Pittsburgh in contention for the Metropolitan Division crown.
Special props to Evgeni Malkin and his 3 assists, and for the overall strong game of Kris Letang. Rob Scuderi's potential injury will be something to watch moving forward.