Missed breakaway chance turns sour for Penguins in 5-2 loss
January 12, 2017 12:27 AM
Nick Wass/Associated Press
Washington Capitals goalie Braden Holtby stops the puck against Penguins center Sidney Crosby during the second period of Wednesday night's game in Washington.
By Jason Mackey / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
WASHINGTON – Evgeni Malkin had scored on the power play to create the first kernel of belief. On the bench, the idea grew that the Penguins, so strong in the third period all season, might actually erase what was a 3-1 deficit.
Then, the hockey gods cruelly yanked the carpet out from under their feet, and the ensuing 29-second sequence proved to be the most crucial turning point in a 5-2 Penguins loss to the Capitals on Wednesday at Verizon Center.
Matt Cullen couldn’t convert a breakaway at one end before Nicklas Backstrom scored to make it 4-1, a two-goal swing that effectively ended the game.
“I actually felt like we were coming pretty good,” Cullen said. “We had drawn a few penalties. We were giving ourselves an opportunity to get back in the game.
“Just put it off the crossbar. If it’s an inch lower, it’s a different game. That happens. It’s frustrating. Obviously you’d like to bury that chance and see what happens. Could have changed the whole complexion of the game."
The swing had several tangents to it.
One, it snapped the Penguins’ five-game winning streak. It was somewhat surprising, too, considering the Penguins have come back seven times when they’ve trailed after two and have outscored teams, 58-28, in the third.
It could have injected some measure of concern into the Capitals, who stretched their own winning streak to seven games. And it definitely would have been a pretty play, for whatever that’s worth, enough to really get the bench buzzing.
Kris Letang and Bryan Rust delivered nifty saucer passes to start and continue the sequence. But a couple inches kept Cullen off the scoresheet and the Penguins from turning this one into a game.
“You get an opportunity like that – I feel like we had kind of shifted the momentum back our way – if that can go in, that’s a big one,” Cullen said of his shot attempt at 12:42 of the third period. “It’s frustrating to see it go off the bar and out of the rink instead of off the bar and in the net.”
A “broken play” had the Penguins out of position on Backstrom's goal. T.J. Oshie called for a stretch pass from John Carlson at the offensive blue line, then dished to Backstrom for the goal at 13:11.
It wasn’t so much a referendum on anything the Penguins have consistently done wrong, although coach Mike Sullivan did say after his penalty kill allowed multiple goals for the first time since Dec. 5 that there are things it has to “shore up.”
The Capitals simply made a pretty nice play. What was interesting was how quickly they moved the puck, here and during other parts of the game.
It’s a decided advantage the Penguins have had over Washington, but maybe not so much anymore. The Capitals have scored 12 of the past 15 goals in the series, so they must be doing something right.
More than anything, though, it was a key turn of events for the Penguins that stunted their third-period comeback hopes.
“It was probably the difference in the game,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said. “ ‘Cully’ makes a great shot. Hits the crossbar. Then off somewhat of a broken play, they end up scoring. For me, that was a big part of the game. We were climbing back in it. We had momentum. We had energy. Our power play gave us a boost in the third. We were right there. That was a big turning point for me.”
Jason Mackey: email@example.com and Twitter @JMackeyPG.
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