By Dan Scifo
From the Point Contributor
PITTSBURGH – Pittsburgh Penguins’ forward Patric Hornqvist couldn’t wait to put the puck on net, and for good reason.
His quick flick of the wrist has the Penguins one win away from a trip to the Eastern Conference finals, and the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Washington Capitals on the brink of elimination.
Hornqvist beat Capitals’ goaltender Braden Holtby 2:34 into the first overtime, giving the Pittsburgh Penguins a 3-2 victory against the Capitals during Game 4 of their Eastern Conference Second Round playoff series Wednesday at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh.
“I just tried to shoot it as fast as I could,” Hornqvist said. “It was nice to see it go in.”
Particularly for the Penguins, who took a commanding 3-1 lead in their best-of-seven playoff series against the Capitals. The Penguins have the edge, but they realize the series is far from over against the NHL’s best team in the regular season. Game 5 is 7 p.m. Saturday in Washington.
“We haven’t done anything yet,” Hornqvist said. “We have to play better if we’re going to win the next game and obviously the next game is going to be the hardest to win.”
Capitals’ defenseman Mike Weber tried to clear Conor Sheary’s chip into the zone, but misplayed the puck, sending it to a wide-open Hornqvist, who finished it for the Penguins. Holtby, who stopped 30 shots, slid across the crease in desperation, but he didn’t have a chance as the puck went between his legs.
“I got it on the side of the net and tried to shoot it as hard as I could,” Hornqvist said. “(Holtby) came over and I went five-hole on him.”
Penguins’ goaltender Matt Murray made 34 saves for the 13th win in his last 14 starts. Murray’s only loss since March 6 came in overtime of Game 1 against the Capitals.
The rookie, making his seventh consecutive start, rebounded to win three straight and has won 15 of 20 NHL games played this season. Murray, who has a six-game home winning streak, withstood a barrage from the Capitals in Game 3 on Monday, making a career-best 47 saves, allowing Pittsburgh to hold on for a one-goal win to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.
Now, he has the Penguins a game from the Eastern Conference Finals.
“(Being ahead) 3-1 is obviously way better than 2-2,” Murray said. “I really like our effort and I think we’re happy with how we played.
“It’s a huge game for us, but we know we have a ton of work left to do.”
Trevor Daley scored his first of the playoffs and Matt Cullen his third for Pittsburgh in regulation. Jay Beagle netted his third and John Carlson his fourth for the Capitals to send the game to overtime.
Both teams had chances to break the tie in the third period.
Murray came up with a big glove save on Capitals’ forward T.J. Oshie and Cullen rang a shot off the crossbar later in the period. Pittsburgh had a late power-play, but didn’t register a shot, falling to 0-for-14 during the series.
“It was pretty tight, but we had a couple good looks,” Penguins’ captain Sidney Crosby said. “When you see (Cullen) hit the crossbar you wonder if you’re going to get another good look like that.”
The series has featured a nasty, physical undertone, which carried into Game 4.
Crosby left briefly in the third period after taking a two-hand slash to the left glove from Capitals’ captain Alex Ovechkin. Crosby violently thrashed his stick in the tunnel leading to the locker room before exiting only to return soon after.
“I thought it was worse than what it was,” Crosby said. “Initially you think maybe you’re not coming back. It’s not a great feeling, but I don’t think there’s any intention. He’s trying to clear it and I’m trying to keep the puck in. That’s part of it.”
Brooks Orpik, one of the Capitals’ top defensemen, served the second of a three-game suspension for his high, hard Game 2 hit on Penguins’ D Olli Maatta, who remains out of the lineup with a concussion.
Penguins’ top D Kris Letang was suspended one game for a similar crunching shoulder in the first period of Game 3 against Capitals’ forward Marcus Johansson, leaving Pittsburgh without its top defensive pairing for Game 4 thanks to Maatta’s injury.
“Without (Letang) and (Maatta) on the back end, the way the defense played tonight, giving us a chance, it was huge,” Crosby said.
Carl Hagelin delivered a blindside hit to Oshie on Wednesday that resulted in an interference penalty. Soon after, Hagelin was fast out of the penalty box and alone on Holtby when Capitals’ D Dmitry Orlov leveled the Penguins’ forward, sending him somersaulting into his own goaltender and the net. Evgeni Malkin later caught Capitals’ F Daniel Winnik with a high hit that wasn’t penalized.
“It’s a physical game,” Cullen said. “The series is a grind and it’s physical. It’s really fun to play and I have to believe it’s fun to watch.”
Both teams netted fluky goals in the first 10 minutes.
Beagle opened the scoring for the Capitals with a bad-angle backhander less than three minutes into the game. It was the Capitals’ first lead since Game 1 of the series.
Daley tied it soon after with a shot off the rush that bounced through a crowd in front of the net and past Holtby.
Cullen put Pittsburgh in front a little more than three minutes into the second period. A chip off the boards sent Cullen on a partial breakaway and he finished with a shot between Holtby’s pads to give the Penguins a 2-1 lead.
The Capitals tied it thanks in part to a Penguins’ turnover in the defensive zone. Justin Williams stripped Derrick Pouliot of the puck down low and sent it to a pinching Carlson, who had a clear path to the net when he beat Murray high and to the glove side.
The Penguins scored the next one, putting them in position to advance.
“I think it’s all what you do with the opportunity,” Crosby said. “We put ourselves in the position to close it out in Game 5 and everybody knows it’s going to be the most difficult one. We’re in that position and we have to do something with it.”
NOTES: Hornqvist’s overtime goal was the first of his NHL playoff career and the Penguins’ first-ever playoff overtime win at Consol Energy Center. … The last time the Penguins won an overtime playoff game at home was in May of 2009 when Letang won Game 3 of the Penguins-Capitals series at the Civic Arena. … The overtime goal ended an eight-game playoff overtime losing streak for Pittsburgh. … Pittsburgh is 4-7 in the playoffs all-time without Letang and 3-8-1 this season. … Twelve of the last 14 playoff games between the two teams decided by one goal…. Pittsburgh won 20 of its last 25 games at Consol Energy Center.