The first 20 minutes of Game 1 between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals were scoreless. But just 12 seconds into the second period, Sidney Crosby gave the Penguins the lead. And just 52 seconds later, he doubled it.
In a series that had been billed as “Crosby vs. Ovechkin — Round 10,000,” this game lived up to that hype. After Crosby scored his two goals, Alexander Ovechkin came right back with a snipe from the top of the slot to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 2-1 and make the game feel like a worthy battle between the two superstars.
The Capitals tied the game up at 2-2 thanks to some nice passing in front of the net and a goal by Evgeny Kuznesov, but another timely goal — this time off the stick of Nick Bonino — gave the Penguins the 3-2 win in D.C. and the early 1-0 lead in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Pittsburgh looked like it was outplayed for a solid stretch of time, and the Penguins’ squandering of their two-goal lead was concerning. The Capitals kept heavy pressure on all night; Washington outshot Pittsburgh 83-41, with three of the Capitals’ shots coming from Ovechkin. Meanwhile, Crosby led the Penguins in shots with five.
“They’re special athletes, both those guys, and they look for the big moments,” Washington head coach Barry Trotz said of the teams’ respective superstars. “They’re special players.”
Every battle must have a winner, and, Thursday, that was Crosby. Now we’ll see in the coming days who wins the war.
A Fleury of saves — including one by Guentzel?
Thursday night, Penguins netminder Marc-Andre Fleury was — again — spectacular. Still filling in for the injured Matt Murray (who has yet to play a minute this postseason), Fleury made 33 saves on 35 shots.
He was particularly fantastic in the second half of the game, when the Capitals were pressing and carrying the play. Fleury’s acrobatics saved Pittsburgh on several occasions, especially when things got frenzied late in the game with about three minutes left to play.
“I couldn’t see the puck, (and) for a little while there, I had no stick, so I was trying to make some stops,” Fleury said. “It was fun.”
Of that sequence, Matt Cullen said: “That was him at his best right there. … He battles for us. It’s been awesome the way he’s played.”
But as good as Fleury was, it might have actually been winger Jake Guentzel who made the save of the game. An Ovechkin shot went off the skate of Penguins defenseman Brian Dumoulin and made its way by Fleury to Capitals forward T.J. Oshie, who looked to have an empty net.
Well, empty at least until Guentzel slid over and made a kick save.
“Kind of a weird play, and I think he shot it right into me, so I’ll take it,” Guentzel said. “I saw it after it bounced in the middle there; I was trying not to touch it.”
With Murray still out with a lower body injury, Guentzel looks like he could be ready to spend a shift or two between the pipes if absolutely necessary.
While Crosby set the stage for Pittsburgh’s win, it was Bonino who finished the Capitals off with a beautiful goal after a quick shift caught defenseman Matt Niskanen in the neutral zone.
“Bones is a guy that’s a high-stakes player,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “He bring his best game when the games are most important.”
In case you forgot, it was Bonino who finished Washington off in Game 6 of last year’s playoffs when he scored an overtime goal in Game 6 of the second round of the playoffs to send Pittsburgh to the Eastern Conference Final and send Washington back home.
The Capitals and their fans are probably getting mighty tired of seeing Bonino celebrate playoff game winners.
Let’s get physical, physical
It’s more than fair to say these two teams don’t like each other much. So, as you might imagine, things Thursday night got a little physical — and a whole lot heated — on the ice. Washington dwarfed Pittsburgh in hits with 41 to the Penguins’ 17.
Pittsburgh likes to play a fast game and relies more on its speed than its physicality. Washington is the opposite, preferring an aggressive approach. But many teams this season have tried to use their brawn to slow down the Penguins, and it hasn’t exactly worked.
The Capitals’ physical play resulted in three penalties for Pittsburgh — interference on Ovechkin, roughing on Kevin Shattenkirk and slashing on Niskanen — and while the Penguins couldn’t find the back of the net on any of those opportunities, that probably won’t always be the case. Pittsburgh has a dangerous power play, and Washington is risking a lot with its aggressive playing style.
Crosby coming in hot
The 2016 Conn Smythe trophy winner for playoff MVP tried to seal it again Thursday night with his two quick goals to put Pittsburgh up 2-0 over Washington. Crosby now has nine career multi-goal playoff game (three have been against the Capitals). And in 14 career playoff games versus Washington, the Penguins’ captain now has 10 goals and seven assists.
Crosby has now scored the first goal of the game in four of Pittsburgh’s last eight playoff games at Washington.
While the assists on Crosby’s second goal went to Patric Hornqvist and Olli Maata, the Penguins’ head coach should really get the credit. Crosby’s first line originally came off the ice before Sullivan put them right back on. Then it was just a nice hustle from Crosby to get up the ice and put the puck away.
Coming into the game, Crosby had seven points but just two goals. Now, he has four goals and nine points.
“That’s how it goes sometimes,” Crosby said. “You don’t get some for a while and then they come in bunches.”
Chris Kunitz returned to the lineup after missing 10 games with a lower-body injury. … Patric Hornqvist, who had two assists Thursday, looked good on Pittsburgh’s first line alongside Crosby and Guentzel. … Carl Hagelin has yet to return for Pittsburgh, but it still looks like he could return at some point in this series. … Evgeni Malkin had a relatively quiet Thursday with two shots on goal.
The Penguins and Capitals will take to the ice again Saturday in the nation’s capital for Game 2 of this series. Puck drop is set for 8:00 p.m. ET.
This article originally appeared here.