Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse for our Penguins, they did.
In a stinko performance, the likes of which hadn’t been seen since Mike Sullivan took over as coach, the Pens were throttled by Washington in Game Six. The disheartening 5-2 defeat evened the Second Round series at 3 games apiece and set up a Game Seven showdown in Washington on Wednesday night.
The final score—muted to a degree by a pair of late goals from Jake Guentzel and Evgeni Malkin long after the outcome had been decided—didn’t fully reflect the lopsided nature of the action. The Capitals, who appeared to score almost at will, were vastly superior in nearly every aspect of the game.
It truly was a night of horrors for an exhausted Penguins squad and the 18,594 disappointed patrons in attendance. The faithful settled into their seats at PPG Paints Arena anticipating a Rembrandt, or at the very least, a Picasso. Instead, they were forced to view a finger painting of an effort from their heroes, a crude one at that.
Following a rousing opening shift, the locals—visibly worn—struggled to establish any offensive zone time, let alone register a shot on goal. While the Pens labored to keep pace, the high-flying Caps grabbed the lead on a power-play tally by T.J. Oshie.
As if to punctuate a dreadful opening period, captain Sidney Crosby took a stick to the nose and later hurtled head-first into the end boards following a three-way collision with Caps defenseman John Carlson and linemate Patric Hornqvist.
Miraculously, No. 87 shook off the blow and remained in the game. It was, perhaps, the only thing to go right for the Pens on this ugliest of nights.
Having survived Sid’s scary tumble and the rocky first period, the Pens finally began to mount an attack through the opening minutes of the second frame. The power surge, brief as it was, was short-circuited by a ghastly Ron Hainsey giveaway near the seven-minute mark.
Afforded an opportunity to clear the zone, the veteran defender inexplicably turned back toward his goal and was knocked to the ice by Andre Burakovsky, in the process coughing up the puck. The swift-skating Austrian sped straight to the net and beat Marc-Andre Fleury, who appeared to stop the initial shot before spinning and pulling his right pad off the post.
The crowd groaned in unison.
To quote NBCSN analyst Mike Milbury, “That was all she wrote.”
The Pens did manage a bit of sustained pressure in the closing minutes of the second period. However, any hopes for a glorious comeback were quickly dashed 16 seconds into the final frame.
Ian Cole tried to force the puck to Crosby in the neutral zone and, instead, turned it over to Nicklas Backstrom. Sailing into the Pens’ zone on a 2-on-1, Backstrom faked a look to Burakovsky and beat Fleury with a sizzler high to the glove side.
The Caps proceeded to use “Flower” for gunnery practice until Guentzel and Malkin foiled Braden Holtby’s shutout bid in the closing minutes.
Sort of like applying lipstick to a pig.
Washington held an edge in shot attempts (51-38), shots on goal (26-18) and hits (38-32). The Penguins controlled the faceoff circle (36-33).
The Capitals converted on 2 of 4 power-play opportunities; the Pens were 0-for-3 with the man advantage. The black and gold committed 11 turnovers.
Chad Ruhwedel played in his first NHL playoff game, replacing the injured Trevor Daley. The native Californian registered three shots on goal, a hit and a blocked shot in 13:14 of ice time. He finished minus-1.
Cole (minus-3) had a tough game. The normally stout defenseman blocked three shots, but committed a game-high four giveaways.
The series finale will be played at the Verizon Center on Wednesday night. The Penguins are 3-0 in Game Sevens against the Capitals, 2-0 on the road. They defeated the Caps, 3-1, in Landover on May 1, 1992, and 6-2 at the Verizon Center on May 13, 2009.